Alexander Technique

The Finger That Points at the Moon

The Finger That Points at the Moon

Part 2

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.

The Finger That Points at the Moon

The Finger That Points at the Moon

Part 1

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.

Taking Refuge in the Body

Taking Refuge in the Body

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

Awareness = Choice

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.

What To Do When You Feel Lost

What To Do When You Feel Lost

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.

The Generosity of Attention

The Generosity of Attention

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.

3 Ways to Breathe Free

3 Ways to Breathe Free

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.

The Dance of Dynamic Balance

The Dance of Dynamic Balance

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.

Awake and Aligned the Alexander Way

Awake and Aligned the Alexander Way

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.

That’s quite a claim. Read on.

Nothing Doing

Nothing Doing

When was the last time you did absolutely nothing? Is there a difference between “non-doing” in Alexander terms, and “undoing” in other traditions? What about the Buddhist concept of “non-striving”?

Don't Do Something, Sit There

Don't Do Something, Sit There

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.)

Four Ways to Alexander Awareness

Four Ways to Alexander Awareness

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.

Upright but not Uptight

Upright but not Uptight

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?

Five Limbs

Five Limbs

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

At A Time Like This

Be softer with you. You are a breathing thing, a memory to someone, a home to a life. -- Nayyirah Waheed This is a good week to know the Alexander Technique. Reeling from the worst mass shooting in our history (not counting incidents of sanctioned genocide) and the attack on our LGTBQ brothers and sisters, we are presented with an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness, to cultivate awareness of life just as it is, without fixing or changing it, without needing it to be different in any way than exactly how it is.

This is important, because when violence and injustice thrust their way into our collective lives -- and this seems to be happening with alarming regularity now -- we want to lash out or shut down or tighten up or collapse in a heap. Sometimes all at once. But the Alexander Technique teaches how to pause; to stop whatever impulse wants to be acted upon and just notice, simply be with whatever is arising. Perhaps the impulse will be acted upon anyway, maybe it's the right course of action, whatever it is. The stopping and noticing is what matters, however. Stop resisting, stop managing, stop being pushed around by your reactivity.

Now, I'm not saying that we passively accept the horrors that surround us as in any way inevitable. We can unlearn our violent ways, just as we can unlearn poor postural habits. But change happens most effectively from a clear place, a place of power with rather than power over, from groups of individuals who can act in the present moment, together in unity. An intention to meet life on life's terms, moment to moment, is a prerequisite for that power and clarity.

This is radical self-care: pausing to ask, "How is it with me right now? Empty CupWhat do I need? What will help me replenish?" At a times like this, many people rush into trying to rescue others, wanting to comfort and care for the wounded and hurting. This is usually well-intentioned, and the body-mind will tolerate it temporarily, but day after day, unless self-care is primary, depletion and burnout are the result. 

Luckily, pausing to do a self check-in takes virtually no time, and the ways to care for the self can be simple and easy:

  • slowly sip a cup of your favorite coffee or tea while doing absolutely nothing else;
  • lie down in constructive rest for 5 or 10 minutes;
  • walk and/or sit in nature while doing absolutely nothing else;
  • call a trusted friend and share one true thing you are feeling;
  • take a break from social media and other technology-based activities;
  • sit comfortably and just breathe;
  • rub your palms together vigorously until you feel some heat, then place your palms over your eyes, let the heat melt away the tension;
  • turn toward your feelings of vulnerability and honor them.

Self-care is primary. That means it comes first, always. It's not indulgent or selfish, it's not "extra" or a luxury, it is not something to get around to eventually, when you get those other people and tasks taken care of. It is the difference between serving a community with love and strength and becoming a burden to someone yourself.

oxygen-mask-227x300Put your own oxygen mask on first, people.

Alexander lessons offer a way to learn and practice the pause and the awareness, to unlearn the reactivity. There is also therapeutic value. When you come for a lesson all twisted up with grief, sorrow, anger, fear, confusion, and all that jazz, you find relief. It's a relief to drop that for a little while and just be present for what is, as it is.

Sometimes (un)learning is too much and all you want is the tender loving care. That's what Somatic Release is all about. Less participation and more pure letting go and being cared for. 

You certainly deserve it, and as odd as it may sound, the world needs it. We need us well.

Primary Engagement

Primary Engagement

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.

Heel Thyself

Someone recently asked me what is the most frequent instruction I give my Alexander students. "That's easy," I replied. "I ask them to pause, and then notice." True as this is, my friend was not satisfied. She really wanted to know what physical habits of posture or use I see most often, and what I teach my students to address these issues. This is not as easy to answer, because everyone is different. But like any AT teacher, I typically see a lot of locked knees, shallow breathing, head/spine misalignment, tight jaws, and generally overworked muscles accompanied by low-level anxiety. Heels

One common misunderstanding I've seen in nearly everybody involves the heels. I'm grateful that my own teacher emphasized heel structure over and over again, because most of us think of our heels as being under the ankle joint. While it is true that the heel is below the ankle, it's crucial to understand that it is also behind the joint. The calcaneus bone (the one that gives the heel its distinctive shape) functions like the kickstand on a bike: it extends at an angle down and out away from the ankle joint. Alignment and balance depend on this, and it is essential for free movement of the ankle joint, which in turn makes the knees less rigid and the hips open up more powerfully (everything's connected).

Heels provide stability in standing as well as walking, and certainly make it possible to "release up," as AT encourages us to allow. Sensing into center (the middle of the pelvic bowl), I feel my sitz bones drop toward my heels. Feeling the connection to the earth through my heels, I can let go and sense how the back of my head is supported all the way from the ground up.

Why so many students with a misuse of their heels? Shoes are a likely culprit. Most shoes have heels, even low ones. Heels were added to shoes because people used to ride horses, and shoe heels kept feet in the stirrups. There's not a good reason for them today, except that we have become accustomed to the shape they make when we wear them: they push up the back of the pelvis, emphasizing the buttocks, and they tend to make calves more shapely. This has become the fashion. Heels, especially high heels, do damage over time, forcing the knees to lock, the weight to press into the balls and toes of the feet, over-arching the lower back, and throwing everything out of alignment, including the head and neck.

That's why I rarely wear high heels anymore, and I advise my students to avoid them whenever possible. Yes, it's fun to wear kicks that elevate, especially if you're short like I am. There's a brief experience of sexy power that I've been conditioned to appreciate, but the discomfort always wins out, and the lack of balance and extra work that high heels force on my body is just not worth it. The only time I enjoy seeing spike heels on anyone is when they are worn in solidarity, like these Toronto gentlemen did:TorontoWalkAMileInHerShoesParadeAnother reason folks seem not to access the support of their heels is that we are all leaning forward a lot, even when we're slouching and pulling down. This is a kind of "leaning in" that should be avoided, as it is an indicator of what F. M. Alexander called end-gaining. In a hurry to "get 'er done," we forge ahead without thinking, unaware of the strain as we push and pull into whatever's next. We literally get ahead of ourselves.

Next time you're in line somewhere, or standing around bored at a party or your kid's T-ball game, pause and notice (see what I did there?):

  • Are you accessing the support of your heels beneath you?
  • Is the weight evenly distributed across the soles of your feet?
  • Is it possible to let go in the arch of your lower back and let your tailbone hang?
  • Can you feel a connection up to the back of your head?

If this makes sense and helps, or especially if it doesn't, consider taking some Alexander lessons. You might enjoy getting to know those little kickstands behind and below your ankles.

Gimme Your Digits

I set an intention of posting a mindful movement tip each day during December, but I neglected to post one yesterday, Day 10.  So on Day 11, here's a two-fer: 10 things to become aware of, plus one. Sitting up or lying back (however you are reading this), rearrange the furniture of your bones, so that you are in balance. If you're sitting, align your weight on the sitz bones at the base of your pelvis. If you're reclining back, align your hips and shoulders as the four corners of your torso. Allow your spinal curves to lengthen up, from the tailbone to the crown of your head. Let whatever is supporting your weight to be a base for sending thoughts of lengthening and widening through your whole body. Notice where you are contracting, and let go. Open to however you are right now in this moment.

Bring your attention to your toes. Without a lot of wiggling or movement, just notice the toes on each foot. Sense into each big toe, become aware of the baby toes, include all the middle toes in your consciousness. You may feel tingling, pulsing, warmth or coolness, numbness, or no sensation. Are there some toes that seem impossible to connect with?  That is not unusual.

Can you sense the connection of the toes into the bones of the whole foot?  Do your toes feel different on the tops than they do on the bottoms?  Can you expand the space around and between your toes, just by directing some thought there? Get curious about all 10 toes.fingers & toes

Now bring that curiosity to your fingers. Again, without moving them around, sense into all 10 fingers. Are they curled into a fist? Extended outward in an open arrangement? Are your palms down or up? Notice how bringing awareness into your fingers is similar to or different from the awareness you have of your toes.

Expand your attention to include both feet and both hands. Move your mind's eye from the fingertips and tips of the toes up into the hands and the feet. Notice how the pinky fingers relate to the baby toes, how the thumbs connect to the big toes. Can you sense the energy in the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands?

So for most of us, that was actually 20 things to become aware of. Here's the plus one: with full awareness of toes and fingers, feet and hands, include your breathing in the experience of this moment.  As you inhale, picture the breath coming in through the toes and the fingers, moving into the feet and hands, up the legs and arms, and into your core. As you exhale, reverse the movement of the breath's energy, back out through legs and arms, feet and hands, out the toes and fingers.

Congratulations. You have just entered the digital age.