It's about so much more than posture...

These are my thoughts on why Alexander teaches us not to end-gain to fix localized conditions or problems, but instead apply the means-whereby that begins with the more beneficial carriage of the head in relation to the spinal column.

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I have been thinking about AT as a tool for change: When you improve conditions through the head/neck/back and begin to function in a way where they are integrated, your perception of situations change as your sensory appreciation becomes more accurate and reliable. This change in perception is where AT facilitates the greatest change of use. It’s not about better body mechanics, or posture, or more refined coordination on a purely movement based, motor behavior level. It’s about totality, the constellation of perception and action relative to how we experience the world through our use, that affords us the most profound level of change, healing and transformation. We can respond more effectively and masterfully to the stimuli we meet.

7 Tips for Bringing Alexander Technique Awareness into Everyday Life

7 Tips for Bringing Alexander Technique Awareness into Everyday Life

Private lessons are a great way to understand your own habits and how Alexander Technique tools can help you find greater ease in daily activities, and specialized skills. We refer to our clients as students because we are teaching skills that offer independence outside of sessions.

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Back in the Studio: Applying Alexander Technique in my return to dance

Back in the Studio: Applying Alexander Technique in my return to dance

For many years, I found myself unable to find the motivation to exercise, whether it was yoga, strength training or cardio. I had also been thinking about revisiting modern jazz dance classes, in the SImonson Technique, which I had studied in high school and college. Within the past 5 or 6 years, I had even gone online and located beginning classes. For some reason, I couldn't overcome inertia so never got to a class.

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Strategies for a Lie Down #2: Breathe easy

When people think of a full breath, they focus on inhaling. Without first effectively exhaling, it’s like trying to fill an already partially full tank beyond capacity…

Instead, learning to allow more volume of air to leave on the exhale sets up conditions of release and more space for fresh air to mix in with the residual levels of atmosphere in your lungs.

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Alexander Technique applied to weight management

Like many of my friends and family, with age my metabolism has slowed down. Once I could eat whatever I wanted, and as much as I wanted, and my weight was stable. In my mid-thirties, I noticed a slow but steady weight gain. At one point, I was 25 pounds heavier and decided I would need to change my habits.

Losing weight proved fairly easy, and I took of 12 pounds in 12 weeks, but maintaining the weight loss was a challenge. After regaining 11 pounds, I accepted the fact that I was going to need to change my long-term habits around and relationship to food.

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AT applied to mindful eating

In an effort to reduce stress, I have stopped watching the news. I skim the homepage of the Guardian and the NY Times to keep current, but otherwise, I rarely watch news on TV or online.

Instead, I watch British films and TV, comedies and crime dramas, home improvement shows and I am a huge fan of the Great British Baking Show.

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"You teach the Alexander Technique? Oh, is that like..."

(Originally published November 2015)

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When I tell people I teach the Alexander Technique, they ask questions to help them figure out which category to place it in. "Is it like yoga?" "Oh, that's about posture and breathing." "What kind of exercises do you teach?"

I tell people the Alexander Technique is truly a mind-body method.  I can show people how their minds and their thoughts impact their bodies. To begin, I help people observe the effect of the mind at the level of muscle tension, balance and mobility. I can also help people see how their thinking effects other systems, including emotions and physiology.

Without a first hand experience (and even after one) it is often difficult for people to find the language to convey what the work is and how the Alexander Technique helps them.

Here are some of F. M. Alexander's words to help us describe the realm in which the work takes place.

In August of 1934, F. M. Alexander delivered a lecture at The Bedford Training College. Among many amazing things he says during this talk, there are two quotes which I find most thought-provoking and exciting:

"We see people do certain things and without thinking or questioning we copy them. Don't. Don't do it…. Do what I recommended everybody in the world do in my first book. That is, to sit down and think over all the beliefs and ideas they have got and find out where they came from. You would not have many left.  After a week's thought, you would throw them overboard."

"You would not think that the matter of belief comes into our sphere. You have all got your ideas of what belief is. Do you know what we have found that belief is? A certain standard of muscle tension."

The Alexander Technique works with belief systems. While it may seem like "bodywork", it is really a process for (among other things) reclaiming awareness, consciousness, and the ability to be truly in the moment, experiencing novelty.  We begin with the belief systems of sensation, such as how much muscle contraction I need to perform a certain task.

 

 

Feeling Grief Fully

(Originally published October 2005)

In September of 2005, my dear friend, mentor and dance teacher, William Burdick, passed away. I was not prepared for his passing. I saw him on Thursday of the Labor Day weekend for our regular weekly class and received a call on Monday that he had passed that Sunday evening. During our class, he was fully lucid and present, and when I said goodbye, we had spoke of our class the following week.

My first sensations and emotions were shock, then numbness set in. I felt distracted and had to keep telling myself again and again that he was no longer living next door to me and I would not be seeing him again. I kept waiting to wake up from the bad dream that I was experiencing.

What was more disorienting for me was that there was to be no funeral, memorial service or gathering. I felt like I'd been dropped off a cliff and was left hanging there.

During the week that followed, I had mildly disturbed sleep and dreampt about him often.  When I woke up, I had the feeling something wasn't quite right in my world.

But I also noticed that as I was teaching and talking with people, and speaking with William's partner, Daniel, that I was present to how much I love being alive, I enjoy my work teaching and the relationships I have. There has been nothing painful about remembering.

And, I recalled a piece my friend and colleague, Vivien Schapera (www.4windsacademy.org) had written on grief. Reading her words many years ago had connected me to a resource I have in me to deal with loss. In her piece included in the book "Curiosity Recaptured", Vivien writes of her experience after her brother's death:

"As a self-employed mother of two young children, a "run and hide" reaction would have been disastrous. On the very same morning of my brother's death I had to start choosing how to be - to put everything on hold, or to continue functioning. I chose the latter and it was immediately empowering. I found that I could still think, plan, organize, eat, laugh, and socialize.  I discovered that life goes on."

I am finding my grieving process is taking on a life of its own and I am following where I am lead, with respect for whatever inner wisdom knows how to do this in a way that works for me.  I am fully engaged with my work and friends, while at the same time experiencing some anxiety in the form of a racing heart and a trembling feeling in my solar plexus. These symptoms peaked about a week after William died and after four days, I attended to myself with nutritional and hands-on support to bring the anxiety levels way down.

For the past 12 days or so, I've had lower back pain, an area that rarely if ever hurts. I realized the other day that I was feeling the pain of this loss physically, which is not unusual for me. I have been doing lots of floor work and constructive rest and getting hands-on support to help me through.

Surprisingly, I have not wept many tears, and whenever I speak about William, I feel gratitude for the depth of our relationship, and I am fully at peace with his passing. I don't find myself wishing I had said or done things that I won't have the chance to no that he's gone.  I feel complete, and an acute awareness that I miss spending time with him.

Your Spine is a Vital Organ

From the archives: 1/6/06

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Not only am I a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I am also a student.  I had my first lesson in 1983 and still have lessons and exchange work with colleagues.  I have found the Technique useful in my endeavors as a dancer, singer and exercise enthusiast; and as a valuable tool to help me heal from injuries, including 3 whiplash incidents, neck, upper and lower back spasms, a hamstring pull, severely stubbed toes and other bumps I don't recall at this moment.

Most recently, I spent 12 weeks healing a lower back event.  The symptoms started a couple of weeks after particularly stressful stretch, including the death of a dear friend and an anxiety provoking missed approach when landing at the Cincinnati airport.  It began with soreness on the sole of my left foot, moved to pain on my lower left side, and which ranged from a dull ache in my abdomen to a sharp pain on the left side of my waist.  Sitting was most painful, so I spent most of the day on my feet or laying on my back, knees bent.   Taking Alexander lessons helped greatly, as did teaching.  During the worst patch, I would awaken in pain in the middle of the night and slept poorly.  Ibuprofen helped.

I did an exchange with my colleague, Judy Stern, who is also a Physical Therapist. After I described the symptoms, we concluded that I probably had a chronic muscular spasm and she recommended a week of ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation, and that I rest on the table or floor two to three times during the day.  After a week, I felt 90% better and have resumed exercise and only occasionally feel sore - which resolves itself within minutes.

Judy reminded my to think of my spine as a single organ, rather than break it into segments (neck and lower back) so that I can work with myself - my stress and pain, in a more effective and holistic way.  Sure enough, I find immediate relief when I remember that my spine is a unified structure of support.  Taking it even further, I include the awareness that my whole torso (shoulder to shoulder, sit-bone to sit-bone) is a single entity.  This immediately improves the mobility in my rib cage, and I notice my breath becomes fuller and it seems as though twenty pounds of pressure eases, as the upper half of my torso stops pressing down onto my waist. (No wonder my lower back was sore!)

Try This:

Using a mirror, look at your torso so you have a strong visual memory of how wide your shoulder girdle is and how wide your torso is.  Trace your shoulder with your fingers, so you have a sense of the structures.  Locate the bones on the bottom of your pelvis.  One easy way to do this is to sit on a firm chair, and then place your hands under your buttocks.  You will immediately feel the bones and their weight on your hands.  As you remove your hands, notice if there is a clearer sense of contact on the chair.

Here's a useful site for interactive learning to help you refine your knowledge of your body's structure.

 

When you're feeling better, a new challenge begins...

From October 2006

In my private practice, I work with people at all stages of wellness and injury.  It's not unusual for a new student to begin with me when they've healed most of the way, but now find they are at a plateau or stuck in a cycle of re-injuring themselves.  The Alexander Technique provides a valuable tool no matter where you are in the healing process, and complements most healing modalities.

One of the challenges of dealing with pain is creating accommodations in your daily life.  Still, when you're in pain, you have a constant reminder that brings you back to conscious awareness of how you are doing what you are doing.  You don't have to be reminded to avoid doing things that exacerbate your pain.  You pay more attention to what you are about to do, and make choices about what not to do.

The challenge comes when you start to feel better, and stop paying such close attention to your actions.  This crucial time is when you are at risk for a set back or re-injury.  Perhaps you've felt limited or just plain tired of having to be so careful about your movements.  As soon as you have a few good days (or even a few good hours) it's easy to let your guard down and go back to the way you did things before you had to think about it.

This is the point in the recovery process when you can truly benefit from slowing down and making choices about your activities.  Think of it as insurance, or getting some savings in the bank in terms of your healing process.
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Here's a personal example:

Last year, as I dealt with chronic pain in my low back over a period of about 4 months, I adopted the practice of avoiding sitting at all costs.  I felt best when standing, so once I got out of bed in the morning, I avoided sitting and even bending down as much as I could.  Sleeping was painful, as I can only sleep on my side.  At the worst of the pain, I slept poorly for many nights in a row.  While awake, I could be comfortable flat on my back with my knees bent and some books behind my head. (Constructive rest position).  I could sometimes be comfortable on my hands and knees.

I chose to stand on the subway, and while I did sit in a car, I had seriously considered laying down in the back seat for the duration of the trip.  I was unable to exercise; bending to put my trousers on was painful; I avoided going out to restaurants or the movies.  I was emotionally and physically exhausted from the pain.  I created all kinds of adaptations to avoid activities that caused or worsened the pain.

As soon as I began to feel better, I went though another challenging phase of healing.  I'd feel better, so I'd over do it and spend the next couple of days feeling like I was back as square one.  After a few rounds of this particular cycle, I began to use my Alexander skills of awareness and inhibition (saying no before responding to a stimulus).  I found the clarity to continue to create safer conditions in my activities.  Even as I was feeling better, I took it very slowly in adding activities back into my life.  I went a lot more slowly than I wanted to, so I kept reminding myself to notice that I wasn't in pain as motivation to "just say no".

I also gave myself the support of taking Alexander lessons to help me release the long term tension that had built up from "cringing" in pain over such a long period of time.
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If you have healed from an injury, and know that every so often, something you do causes a return of some or all of your symptoms, recall what kinds of activities you adapted or avoided during your healing process.  Reflect to see if you've been engaged in some of the movements or activities that you had to avoid completely while healing.  Consider having some lessons with an Alexander Teacher, or consulting with your PT or Massage Therapist, to develop modifications for those activities, and/or a reconditioning program.