One of the key components of the Alexander Technique is learning how to pause, to wait before acting. There is a moment between stimulus and response, and in that gap is the possibility of making a fresh, perhaps different choice. When we don't do that, we often increase our own suffering. Here is a reflection on that from my blog Moving Into Mindfulness: The Second Arrow. See if you recognize yourself. Namaste.
- an increased ability to remain calm under stress
- natural realignment of the body
- clarity of thought and improved ability to focus
- more ease and balance in movement
- improved, healthier sleep cycles
Here's the latest news from Way Opens Center:
Happy Independence Day! Celebrate freedom from tyranny in all its forms.
Thoreau said: "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads." Walking yesterday and today I have been feeling this viscerally. I've covered about 12 miles between the two days, breaking in a new pair of shoes, experimenting with different layers of clothing and socks, trying to avoid blisters and learning how to treat the ones I get. (helpful information here about that) Spring is such a great time to take long walks, and it is stunningly gorgeous here in Bucks County, PA. Blazing azaleas, pink and white dogwoods, irises and tulips blooming -- and green absolutely everywhere, in every shade. William Penn knew a good thing when he saw one.
I walk along the Delaware Canal, just two blocks from my house. It's a wonderful state park that runs from Bristol to Easton, and offers a beautiful setting for exercise year-round. In spring one has to be aware of the geese who nest along its banks, and when I spot a sweet goose family with its mama, papa, and fuzzy yellow goslings, I am cautious. These geese are hell bent on protecting their young ones and often hiss at me as I pass by; they will attack if they feel threatened.
I have been considering how natural it is to want to protect the younger generation, how strong the survival instinct is in us, so much so that we would kill to stop any serious threat to our child. Yet we don't fight for the planet on behalf of the next generations. How can we be more fierce on their behalf?
Walking along a canal means having to turn around and come back the way you came. Some fundamental part of me does not like this. I'd rather walk in a loop, I suppose. There is something difficult psychologically about that moment where I turn around and start walking back, knowing that I am only halfway done. I almost always hear "only" halfway in my head, not "already" halfway. Luckily, it is also the point at which the endorphins usually kick in. I had actually forgotten about how fabulous endorphins are, as they flood my system after I have walked a few miles. I begin to feel sore or tired or bored or I tighten up and want to stop but there's nowhere to stop so I keep going, and then boom!--there's that nice "all-over" feeling, that sense of integration, in spite of how hard my muscles and bones are working. Then the walking does itself, and when I am walking along the canal I feel myself flowing, as the water is also very slowly drifting along. F. M. Alexander said, "The right thing does itself," and, like William Penn, he was really on to something there.
I thought of F.M. today when I encountered a local great blue heron. I have a special connection with this bird, since the first time we met. A few days after we moved here I went out for a walk, harboring grave doubts about what we had just done to our lives by leaving Brooklyn for Bucks. As I rounded a bend in the towpath, I came upon this heron standing on one leg and instantly realized why I had chosen to relocate. Today when I saw the heron on the path ahead, I slowed down, fearing I would scare it. But as I crept closer, the bird remained still, until I was mere inches away. Our eyes met and I watched as it quite deliberately and delicately raised one foot and stepped away like the world's most elegant dancer, its long neck a reminder of "up."
Such diversity of life, such strength and beauty all around. Careful stepping of the bird, former dinosaur. ancient eye, primal connection, reminder of the interconnectedness of everything, reminder that we ought to step carefully too.
May I walk with a fierce protection for the web of life in my heart. May I be grateful for Heaven under my feet.
I welcome your positive wishes, prayers, and good cheer for me and everyone with the Earth Quaker Action Team as we embark on the Green Walk for Jobs and Justice, this Monday, April 30.
Yesterday I facilitated a training that explored theapplication of Alexander Technique principles to the activity of walking. I was leading this training as both a
fundraiser and in preparation for the Green Walk for Jobs and Justice, Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT)’s upcoming 16-day, 200-mile walking expedition from
Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to build support for our campaign to stop PNC Bank
from financing mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. I will be one of
the “Mountain Justice Walkers”, walking between 10 and 17 miles a day over
Yesterday was a bit chilly with a steady, soaking rain. The plan was to walk 3 to 5 miles for about 2 hours in Center City Philadelphia, but as a group we agreed to cut that down to just under an hour and about 2.5 miles. It was like walking inside a rain cloud, and although not horribly windy or frigid, it wasn’t exactly pleasant. A ways into this soggy walking practice, I heard myself ask, “why am I doing this again?” and then, “how is this helping anyone?” In the same instant I recognized the part of myself that believes everything in life should always be nice and comfortable and pleasant. And another part that expects all endeavors to be a means to an end and not an end in themselves.
- Because I can’t sit idly by
- Because it will make me stronger in body and mind
- To put my conviction to the test
- To make a bold statement
- To bring attention to the plight of the communities and culture of Appalachia and all the people who are living with the effects of MTR
- To become closer to the Earth
- Because I want to slow down
- To promote Earth Quaker Action Team
- Because I am just so fricking sick and tired of corporate culture dominating everything everywhere
- Because it will be fun, joyful, empowering, instructive, and totally ridiculous
- Because I know a leading when one hits me upside the head
- To become a better organizer and teacher
- To give me something to blog about
- To meet some Pennsylvania Quakers outside of Philadelphia
- I feel it is my Christian duty
- To move and be moved
- Because it’s better than sitting on my ever-widening ass and doing nothing
- To find out more about praying with my feet
- To soak up every bit of wisdom and know-how from George Lakey that I possibly can
- To be humbled
- To get in shape!!!
- Because it will be nothing but a completely focused and directed experience, the sort of opportunity that doesn’t come around too often.
This Green Walk for Jobs and Justice is about restoring the balance in
our economic, environmental, and spiritual systems, or establishing right
relationship. I am so lucky that I get to do nothing but walk, step by step
toward a clear and obtainable goal: to ask PNC Bank why it prefers to invest in
destruction and degradation instead of clean, sustainable, prosperous
The whole time I can just focus on my body. Eugene Gendlin said, “’Body’ means interaction with the situational environment. Even the simplest living bodies are complex and purposeful interactions with their environments.” So in restoring the environment through cutting off the money supply currently funding its destruction, I am engaging in a “purposeful interaction”, mile by mile. I know I will be restoring myself, my own bodymind, as I walk.
I am so blessed to have this chance to work intimately with people I admire and respect. Seeing this group come together in about 6 weeks to literally put this Green Walk on the map has been a lesson in the miraculous. When we say “way opens” we are not kidding. People are really ready to be helpful, to join in and give their support in many ways. I think a lot of the time most of us are anxious and afraid, and any tangible, practical thing we can do somehow mitigates that, and feels good. The best part is, we’re actually not doing all that much. Certainly we’re challenging ourselves mentally and physically by walking, but essentially that is all we are doing. Just walking. And maybe connecting with our neighbors as we go. So it feels productive, and it is, but not in the usual way of our daily, multi-tasking selves running around trying to Get Stuff Done.
There is a refreshing quality of honest and direct communication in the planning process that I have seen, amongst ourselves and also between EQAT representatives and the hospitality and activist contacts we’ve been calling statewide. It seems that even when people cannot accommodate a request, they have been generally supportive and their reasons for saying no almost always have to do with what is best for their congregation or community group. In explaining themselves, they reveal their values and contribute something of themselves even in the refusal. That feels like good politics to me.
These are just 22 of the possibly hundreds of reasons I am joining the Green Walk for Jobs and Justice. I do hope I will have enough energy on the road to write short, frequent posts on this blog. Meanwhile, I welcome your comments.
Why are you joining the Green Walk? If you want to but can’t, why would you want to?
What messages should we bring to James Rohr, CEO of PNC Bank, when we get to Pittsburgh?
Tonight I began a six-week course, "Mindfulness for Educators." I have the privilege of being able to take this class, taught by Irene McHenry, my supervisor and the Executive Director of Friends Council on Education. This is such treat for me, for so many reasons. First, it is conveniently being held at George School, a mere 15 minutes from home. Second, Irene is a master teacher of this practice. It's a pleasure to experience my boss in a different context, giving the gift of encouragement as she asked us to go deep and show up for ourselves in the present moment. Third, there are quite a few wonderful George School teachers taking this class, which is great because it means more mindfulness practice will find its way into classrooms at GS, plus it's fun to be learning with the amazing folks who taught our oldest (now in college) and our youngest (a current student).
What I want to share is that during the Body Scan meditation at the end of our two hours together, when my mind was focused on my feet, I heard Irene say, "both feet," and I was suddenly overcome with the most complete awareness of having two healthy functioning feet, and a nervous system to feel their connection to the earth. And I was filled with such gratitude and felt so reassured.
I think I needed this mindful restoration of my feet because today I wore a new pair of high-heeled boots, something I try to limit in my life. They are cool kicks but they strain my ankles and shins. On the up side, they keep me continuously aware of my center of gravity as I maintain my balance.
Here is a link to the interview I mentioned in my last blog post, about Alexander Technique and Nonviolent Direct Action.
Thanks to Robert Rickover for producing these interesting and lively discussions about Alexander work. Robert is also responsible for the comprehensive website The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique.
Enjoy all these resources for ease of well-being.
And remember to think up when you speak up.
|Me and my big mouth, at an EQAT action in December.|
Recently I was asked to provide a brief definition or description of the Alexander Technique for an interview I was giving. This is always such a challenge, because the work needs to be directly experienced to be understood. However, I am rather pleased with the following, and I hope it helps you understand what AT is and does. If you want to find out more, contact me -- email@example.com -- or find another Alexander teacher -- www.ati-net.com or www.amsatonline.com.
As you may recall from my 2011 New Year's post, I don't much like resolutions, at this time of year or any other, especially when they involve "improving" oneself. I think we're all okay as is, that we each have more than enough within us to meet the demands of life. We're resilient. We contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman said.
Nevertheless, we are continually either growing or stagnating. If you prefer evolution to entropy it is vital to keep learning more and more about your self, how you relate to that self, and how that self relates to the environment and those with whom you share it. This doesn't necessarily require learning a new skill; it might mean strengthening a skill you already possess or adapting a well-known skill to a new purpose.
For 2012 I am reviving a discipline I had going about ten years ago, when I was teaching Alexander Technique to groups of graduate students in MFA programs, first for opera singers then for actors. I nearly always began each class with a 20-30 minute warm-up, which stretched muscles, opened joints, got people breathing fully, and unified mind and body (at least for a few minutes at a time). After that we could really get down to work (or play).
I have become much less physically active than I was in those years, and while I do manage to find time once or twice a week for exercise, I don't do it every day, and so I need something to keep my bodymind in shape and centered. As with sitting meditation, consistent practice is essential.
So I now get up one half-hour earlier than I used to, grab my yoga mat, and begin the sequence I taught 3 or 4 times a week when I was teaching groups. It feels really good to be moving in this familiar way once again. Plus, rather than having to split my focus and track my students as we do it together, I have the freedom to pay full attention to myself as I slowly wake up through movement.
That's the nice part. Here's the not-so-wonderful thing: I am ten years older. That's ten years of an increasingly sedentary existence. That's the difference between age 40 and 50. I knew I would not be as flexible and that in some ways my body would resist even as it hungered and thirsted for the stretching and the lifting and the balancing and the deep breathing. Yet I was surprised -- shocked, even -- to discover how simultaneously stiff and flabby I have become. In both body and mind.
All I can say is, it's a good thing I don't talk to my students the way I talk to myself.
There is the notion in Alexander world, and in some yoga traditions, that we bring our most prominent habits into every activity. In my case, the very first habit I noticed on Day One was my mental/emotional habit of negatively judging myself. All the time. No matter what. Despite any reality to the contrary.
Thus, as I began my first few mintes of stretching, grounding, and centering (which was going pretty well, by the way) I heard,
Boy, are you out of shape!
You call yourself an Alexander teacher?
Who do you think you're fooling? You are fat and old and doing this won't change that.
This is pointless.
(and a bunch of other really mean things.)
Luckily, as I heard myself say "pointless," I stopped and took half a second to consider whether or not that was true. I instantly concluded that even if it would not change how I looked, it would certainly change how I feel, because even five minutes into it I was feeling my energy rising and I like that feeling. So, not pointless at all.
How could I stop the inner critic, or at least detach from it? Mindfulness has taught me to always return to the breath, so I did that. And as I did, I remembered something I learned more than 20 years ago at Kripalu Center, where I often visited once upon a time. Some of the yoga teachers there were heavy into holding yoga poses for long periods of time. Maybe that's characteristic of "Kripalu style" yoga, I don't know, but man, we maintained those poses for hours ! Okay, it was only a few minutes. But it felt like hours, and so the teachers gave us a strategy for being with the challenge of lengthy posture-holding:
When I practice this simple method I change the word "relax" to "release" because that fits better with my Alexander work and my own sense of what needs to happen. I don't think it's possible, or even optimal, to relax in many circumstances, but it is always possible and beneficial to release whatever I might be holding unnecessarily, or however I might be efforting too much.
Hope is as hollow as fear.
What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.
What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don't see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?
See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.
UN-LABOR DAY OPEN HOUSE
The spine is the central column of support and the core energetic pathway in our bodies. At Way Opens Center, I teach Alexander Technique as a way to learn how to access this central support and move according to its design. In lessons, we focus on freeing up the spine, allowing it its full length and renewing its supple, flexible nature. Thinking up, inhibiting downward pull or collapse, and rediscovering the poise of the head in movement -- these are all excellent ways to encourage the body to reorganize itself so that activities are easier and more enjoyable.
But do you really know anything about your spine? If you don't have the facts, if your inner body map is badly drawn, you will have a much more difficult time moving in harmony with its design. Over the years, I have heard students say things like:
- I am trying to straighten my spine
- My spine is my backbone, right?
- The spine runs from my lower back to my shoulders
- I inherited a crooked/collapsed/overly curved/arthritic/weak spine, there is nothing I can do about it, it's genetics
- My spine is like a flag pole and everything hangs off of it
It is essential, therefore, to get to know the anatomy of your spine. Luckily for all of us, my colleague Sarah Chatwin has written a wonderful, practical article describing the details of this amazing structure that sets us apart as a species. You can click to it on her blog HERE.
I am also reproducing it below, in case you prefer to just keep reading.
In the next few posts, I will share simple bodymind experiments that will give you the opportunity to experience moving through and with your spine, so you can put this new, accurate information to good use.
We humans come equipped with some fairly amazing infrastructure. Here’s five and a half spine facts to help you love your back just a little bit more:
3. Size matters
If you want to know how to do that, e-mail me at amy@wayopenscenter, and I will be happy to send you instructions. Better yet, call me for an Alexander lesson, and learn how with hands-on guidance.
I aspire to be even half as good as this poet.
I haven't been able to write anything much lately. As many of you know, my mother died on April 2, and this month has passed in a bit of a daze for me. Combined with several other mini-crises in the other areas of my life -- from work to parenting to my many volunteer activities -- my professional life has really taken a back seat. It takes enormous energy to promote Way Opens Center, Alexander Technique, and my other healing services. I had no idea how enervating the mourning process could be. Does that sound naive? I guess it's a little like saying "I had no idea how exhausted I would be after giving birth."
Anyway, I am not going to beat myself up about unintentionally taking a break or pulling back my attention from the work I have been called to do. Sometimes you have to stop where you are on your ascent and take stock. The Alexander approach is about nothing so much as pausing to notice what is, and then making a choice for action based on what one observes.
Here's a blog from Tiny Buddha, a wonderful online resource. I think I'll let someone else do the talking, while I pause to reconsider my next steps.
I do hope I'll see some of you this Saturday, April 30, which is Pay What You Can Day. Call for an appointment, and set your own fee. It doesn't have to cost a lot to try Alexander Technique or Somatic Release for the first time.
I want to share a blog by Jeremy Chance, an Alexander teacher who lives and works in both Australia and Japan. Consider what he suggests about non-doing. Try it out. Crises are the opportunities that arise for our further awakening.
Beginning today, I will be trying out this process as a way to test the theory that kindness makes you stronger, and occasionally writing about it here. If you want to try this experiment too, please do, and then share your results on the comments section of this or subsequent posts.
This kind of experimentation is part of what I try to practice when I teach the Alexander Technique. F.M. never asked anyone to take what he said on faith. He demonstrated what he had discovered about human psychophysical functioning, over and over again, and asked his pupils to apply his teachings and experience for themselves if what he said was true or not.
The ability to test the truth of something through direct experience is important to me, which is one of the reasons I am a Quaker. George Fox, who founded the Religious Society of Friends in the mid-17th century, preached the radical notion that God can be experienced directly by each person, without the need for ritual or an intermediary like a priest or minister. (As you can imagine, this was not a popular message with the Church.) Fox and his followers demonstrated repeatedly that each of us can hear the Spirit and be guided by it if we only listen, and that whole groups of people, if gathered intentionally, can experience God and know how to act together.
My expectation in working with what the Dalai Lama has said is that it will be true. But I think that, like a lot of us, I still have some lingering notion that kindness and compassion are "soft" or even "weak" somehow. Intellectually, I know this is not so, that it takes courage and strength to be kind and to allow oneself to feel sympathy. But I often behave as if I don't know or believe that, so I am interested to see how intentionally extending positive thoughts toward every person I encounter might prove to be an effective method of restoring self-confidence. I certainly would love to stop being so afraid of other people all the time.
The first thing I will have to do in this experiment is remember to try it!
I would really appreciate any feedback that might come my way during this process. Feel free to share your comments!
Today I want to share with everyone an article published on the website Salon by a wonderful writer, Sarah Hoffman (a pseudonym), called My Son, the Pink Boy. This isn't about the Alexander Technique, or wellness, or healing. At least, not specifically. But it is a great example of what happens when we are not aware of our habits of reaction.
One of the principles of the Alexander Technique is that, for the most part, we live our lives in utter disregard for how we are using ourselves; we are a bundle of unexamined habits of tension, misuse and lack of balance. Until we begin to notice our patterns, we will continue to be subtly (or not so subtly) damaging ourselves unnecessarily. Once we do begin to see what we are doing in activity, then we have some choices about how we'd like to proceed. We can respond mindfully rather than react mindlessly.
I believe this is true for the whole human species. The society and culture we create is a reflection of our beliefs and ideas. As a society, if we remain mindlessly reactive, we will continue to damage ourselves. If we can begin to look at our assumptions and habitual reactions, maybe we can make some different choices and continue to evolve.
Unfortunately, there is a big barrier to noticing habitual reactive patterns: they feel normal. Whether on an individual or group level, habits become ingrained and normalized, to the point where we don't question or even notice them. They just become the sea we swim in, or the background noise of the refrigerator humming that you don't hear until it shuts off.
The situation Sarah Hoffman describes in her article gives many good examples of how people often react mindlessly, from assumption and prejudice, even when their intentions may be "good." If you also read the comments readers have made that follow the article you will see more reactivity. They are all based on some notion of what "normal" is.
Based on years of many repeated experiences, it is my opinion that we do not have an accurate sense of what "normal" is, either individually or as a society. We think we know what "normal" is, but we are wrong.
If possible, as you read the article, notice your own reactions, both physically (what happens in your body as you read?) and mentally/emotionally (what thoughts and feelings erupt?). Observe yourself without judgment.
I am also sharing this article because I work with a number of people who struggle with how their physical expression of themselves sometimes causes them pain and difficulty. Ultimately, we all project something of ourselves by the way we walk, talk, and behave. Alexander Technique helped me become comfortable in my body, after years of being taught, explicitly and implicitly, that I could not trust it and it was not beautiful. Along with other habits of misuse, this was one of the more fundamental habits I was able to overcome through the patient and loving instruction of my teacher.
So now, enjoy, My Son, the Pink Boy.
I welcome your comments!
Here is an excerpt from a video of Marjorie Barstow in 1982, discussing and demonstrating the basic ideas at the core of the Alexander Technique. Notice the difference between the first way she picks up a book off the table, and the second way. It's an old video, so the quality has deteriorated slightly, but the quality of Marj's use of herself is as fresh as ever.
Perhaps the most important thing she says is that one has a choice about how to move and inhabit one's body.
I cannot believe I forgot to post this article here when it came out last month. If you haven't seen it yet, please enjoy. It was published in the Newtown Gazette.
I welcome your comments and questions.
Happy Groundhog Day!