You are lighter than you think: getting up from a chair

You are lighter than you think: getting up from a chair...One of the side benefits of being an Alexander Teacher is my constant search for novel ways to help my students relate to the skills we are teaching. It is no surprise to me that after almost 30 years of teaching, I can still find a new, simpler and more accessible way to describe a common,  habit that gives my students access to an easier, less stressful way to perform a task.

Read More

Embracing Change

Embracing Change...

Alexander Teachers could be considered “change agents” for the individual. We help our students expand ways of being in thinking, movement and behavior.

That can seem vague and hard to articulate, and many Alexander Teachers find ourselves momentarily tongue-tied when someone asks: “What is the Alexander Technique?”

Read More

Thinking to muscles

Thinking to muscles:

From the archives: originally published 10/22/04

Last week, I wrenched my back lifting an air conditioner out of the window. It was a pinching, shooting pain when I moved in certain ways.  I finished carrying the air conditioner into the other room to tuck it away in a closet, and then I lay down on my teaching table. I began sending my Alexander directions, and imagining the knot in my back muscle releasing and unwinding.

Read More

Organization: start with yourself

Organization: Start with yourself

"When we have our body and mind in order, everything else will exist in the right place, in the right way.  But usually, without being aware of it, we try to change something other than ourselves, we try to order things outside us.  But it is impossible to organize things if you yourself are not in order.  When you do things in the right way, at the right time, everything else will be organized. "   -- Shunryu Suzuki (Japanese Zen Master)

Read More

Rate of Change

Rate of Change (originally published 8/8/05)

When people begin studying something new (especially if it's helping them feel better), it's natural for them to want to learn all they can, right away and be a model pupil.  Often, my clients get a great deal of relief when they first start to study, and because they have been in discomfort, they want to do all they can to hold onto the new state they are in.

Read More

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.

Read More

Problem solving using The Alexander Technique

*This was originally posted on ACAT's Blog

Problem Solving

problemsolvingsign.jpg

Alexander didn't have a teacher to help him solve his vocal problems.  He had no one telling him where to begin or how to approach finding a solution, so he began with simple observation and then experimented on a trial and error basis.

One of Alexander's observations and concerns, as he worked for over 60 years teaching people from all walks of life, was the lack of critical reasoning people brought to problem solving.

Some of my most effective teaching moments have been when I could help someone see, for themselves, how they were using their body or reacting to a situation.

Example 1:

At the first lesson, I showed this student how she was putting pressure on her lower back by locking her knees and pushing down onto her waist.   Within moments, she was able to lesson the pressure.

"When my doctor suggested surgery to alleviate excruciating back pain from two herniated disks, I remembered a friend who had avoided surgery by working with an Alexander trainer so I tried it too.  It's been almost two years since I started working with Brooke and I am virtually pain-free.  When I do have pain, it's because I've forgotten to use the Alexander tools Brooke taught me; as soon as I remember to walk properly, the pain goes away.

I no longer suffer from terrible lower back pain. My whole body feels less tense and I have fewer muscle aches. Using the Alexander Technique while playing golf, lifting weights or doing any other physical activity has helped prevent injury."

Example 2:

"I asked Brooke about my knee pain and she asked me to get up from the chair and within a few seconds she saw my problem. She had me sit and get up again, this time giving me commands on how to position my legs when getting out of a seated position. I felt the difference immediately and to this day, I use the

instructions she had shown me. "

Example 3:

I am working with a young actress, who shared she is not satisfied with her quality of sleep.  After about 5 lessons, she came back and told me she has engaged in a point-by-point investigation into solving the combined issues that were interfering with her sleep.  She said she'd solved some of her problems, knew the solution to others and was getting to them; and still had some questions about solving some of the problems.   At our lesson last week, she said she was sleeping better already.

Here is her checklist:

  1.  Sleep Mask- buy one that does not fall off
  2. Mattress- switch with neighbor, get a new one
  3.  Pillows- remove second pillow and get smaller pillow to put under big pillow (both pillow were a lot for me, and one was not enough so I was always struggling with them at night)
  4.  Glass of Water- Keep at distance far enough that you can't knock over
  5.  Dogs
  6.  AC- Keep remote next to you and turn on and off as you please during the night
  7.  Comforter- Keep yourself cool so you won't get hot under it, ask Michael to push it to your side before he gets in the bed so he does not sleep on it and therefore deprive you of wonderful comforters
  8.  Michael awake at night
  9.  Dogs chewing things- before going to bed remove all things that the dogs can reach that you know they will chew on (shoes, pens,etc)

While students who have lessons sometimes have a hard time describing what the Alexander Technique is, or describing the sensations and changes they experience, these examples are a bit more concrete and can help students understand the reasoning process that is an integral aspect of applying the principles of the Alexander Technique.

You can ask: "How am I doing what I'm doing?  Could I do this differently?"

A simple example from my own life came when I realized I could thread a needle more easily by facing the whole towards my eyes, and bringing the thread from behind the needle into the hole.   It is much easier to see.  I consider myself a somewhat intelligent person, but I realized how habitual I can be in life, and when I made this simple adjustment (after 38 years of threading a needle "blind" by brining the thread in sideways) the activity became much easier and more efficient.

The Alexander Technique: It’s Not Just About Standing Up Straight

*This was originally posted on ACAT's Blog

posture.png

 

When people hear that I teach Alexander Technique, they often comment “Oh, that’s about standing up straight”, or say something apologetic or sarcastic. Then they inevitably pull themselves up into their version of “Good Posture”.

The good news is that gravity is not what’s getting you down. It’s actually your own muscles, over contracting, working inefficiently and pulling you down. When you learn to allow lengthening to occur throughout your musculature, weight falls more efficiently through bones and joints, leaving you more balanced on your skeleton.

Hours spent sitting at a computer, studying, driving a car and other such sedentary activities contribute to being habitually shortened through the muscles on the front of the body. Because we are so used to this shortening, it doesn’t register in your feeling sense as active muscle work. In fact, it probably feels effortless and maybe even comfortable. Fortunately, when you learn to release this excess effort, the natural outcome is more evenly distributed muscle tone, lengthening and more upright alignment through your spine. You can get better results with less effort when it comes to posture.

I have a couple who’ve studied with me since Fall of 2000. He reported gaining a full inch in height at his last check up; and she went from a 1/4″ to a 1/8″ correction in her orthotics for a leg length discrepancy.

Studying the Alexander Technique can help you look taller and feel lighter and easier in upright posture.

I leave you with this quote:

“I am putting into gear the muscles that hold you up, and you are putting them out of gear and then making a tremendous effort to hold yourself up, with the result that, when you ease that effort, you slump down worse than ever.” F. M. Alexander

The Alexander Technique as a Tool for Dealing with Trauma

NOTE: This was originally posted on ACAT's Blog

[*Please note, I am fully healed and my love of dogs is fully intact!]

angrydog.png

The Sunday before Father’s Day in 2005, I was bitten on my right leg in three places by a bulldog in the home of someone I knew. I had met the dog before a number of times over the years, and had entered the home of her owner without waiting for the woman to come to the door without incident many times.

After the dog released me and her owner pulled her away and closed her up in a room, I noticed my habitual reaction was to immediately focus on the idea that “everything is fine.” My parents were there, having arrived before me, and they and the dog’s owner seemed ready to join me in my habit. I was able to stand and walk on the leg. I saw a long scratch down the inside of my calf, which was bleeding; and evidence of bite marks on my calf and the outside of my thigh, which was swelling slightly, beginning to turn red as bruising began; and what seemed like bleeding under the skin where there were obvious teeth marks.

As moments passed, my assessment of the situation was that I had to pursue proper treatment for myself. Those around me were already soothing themselves with the idea that I was walking and the skin was not broken, so I was OK. I first suggested that I go to the hospital, as I imagined a tetanus shot was in order. The others seemed hesitant to take me there, as the wounds didn’t seem serious enough. The owner said she didn’t think I needed to go to the hospital or that there was any worry, as the dog was up to date on her shots and the skin was not broken. (In fact, on later inspection when I got home, I discovered the skin had been broken in five places.)

I did not want to go to the hospital, but I knew that was my habit of minimizing things. I pursued the subject, insisting that I should consult with a medical professional to determine the proper course of treatment. The owner offered to try to reach her doctor on the phone. She called and I thought the line didn’t answer. My mother later told me she believed there was a recorded message with further instructions and another number to call in an emergency, but the dog’s owner didn’t pursue the course beyond her first call. I suggested I call my own doctor, who was out of town. The doctor covering for her called me back after about 15 minutes and determined that the dog and I were up to date on our shots and my concern was infection. He didn’t tell me to go to a hospital, but did tell me how to clean the wounds and what to watch for that would indicate infection.

The owner had provided me with a bottle of betadine and paper towels to clean the wounds. I asked her for some ice as I saw there was swelling, and at first she told me in which drawer I’d find a plastic bag to put the ice in before she stepped in and did it for me.

I noticed throughout that I was in mild shock. My hands were shaking, and I had lost my appetite, even though I had been hungry when I arrived. I felt an energy of wanting to move, to get away from this environment, even though I stayed where I was. I was also acutely aware that I found the behavior of my parents and the dog’s owner contributed to my discomfort. I felt a distinct attitude coming from them that the event was over and all was fine now, while I was still very shaken. I felt unsafe in their presence and that any display of upset or fear would be met with a non-reaction.

When I arrived home a couple of hours later, my husband expressed what felt like an appropriate level of horror and concern and outrage that this had happened. I knew his response had an accurate level of energy and urgency to it. It took me a couple of days to feel the full intensity of my physical and psychic disturbance, and all the while, I had to keep recognizing my habit to minimize the events, my feelings, my thoughts and use my Alexander principles of awareness and direction to keep myself in the reality of the situation. My parents also woke from their somewhat numbed reaction and became more upset upon seeing my injuries in full color, and in response to how the dog’s owner had minimized the seriousness of the events.

For a few days, whenever I thought about the actual attack, I could feel the pain of the dog’s jaw biting my leg vividly. I could feel my fear and shock setting in as I struggled on the floor, calling for help and trying to scramble away from the dog. I wondered if I would have flashbacks and residual stress from the event. That didn’t happen and I believe it was because I sought out contact with people who would express the outrage, and empathize with me, whether or not they saw the actual wounds or had ever been bitten by a dog themselves.

Acting against my habit in this case has had many benefits. I have been much more proactive in dealing with many different circumstances that I would habitually avoid or let go un-addressed at the expense of my own comfort and well-being.

About a month later, on July 7, 2005, I was watching a film clip of a man injured in the subway bombings in London. As I watched the police help him walk and saw the cuts on his face and his bandages, I recalled the shock and mild trauma that I had experienced from the bite, and felt I could empathize much more fully with the pain, fear, and shock he must be feeling. I could touch into those feelings, while not re-living the moment as real or losing my present self in the memory. I fully credit my skill in the principle of the Alexander Technique with my ability to feel more fully and know I was safe.

"Reality Check": How to think constructively to manage fear and stress

*This was originally posted on ACAT's Blog

problem solving.jpg

When I began my training as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, my biggest "symptom" was not pain, it was anxiety.   I had started to have panic attacks, where I felt light headed and would begin to hyperventilate, and I was afraid I was dying.  Often, the fearful thoughts centered around having an allergic reaction to something that would prove fatal.    (I have had three incidentsof strong allergic reactions, one to medication, one to food and one undetermined, none of which has been fatal.)

During the second year of my training, I noticed that I had not had any "incidents" in recent memory.  A couple of years after I graduated, I recall watching a panic attack come on while I was riding the subway.   I felt a flush of heat rise from my heart up to my ears (adrenaline rush?), my heart started pounding, and I began to think "I'm having trouble breathing".  As I observed myself, my mind remained calm, and I thought to myself "Wow, your body is experiencing sensations of terror.   Yet, I don't feel afraid.   I am remaining conscious, I can breath even though I have concerns that I can't.   Wow, this is so interesting."  As fast as the symptoms came on, they subsided.   The event made a strong impression on me because my reason stayed clear and I did not mistake the symptoms for something dangerous.

The process of training in the Alexander Technique gave me skills to refrain from my habit of anticipatory anxiety.   I would not have realized this pattern of behavior if it weren't for the contrast I noticed.   Over the years, I have seen how my focus on releasing physical tension from my body has had a beneficial influence on my mental state as well.

Try This:

Notice a topic you may be concerned about, or worrying over.  (There's plenty of issues facing us, such as the state of today's economy.)

Write down the thoughts of concern or worry you are experiencing.

Which ones are based on current facts/circumstances?   Which ones are based on what might or might not happen?

Now, take a moment to think of allowing your shoulders and jaw to release some tension.  Notice what that is like.

Now, think about something you are concerned or worried about.

Return to releasing your jaw and shoulders.   You may have noticed that they tensed again when you put your attention on your concerns.

Continue to move back and forth between actively releasing tension in shoulder and jaw; and thinking about things that worry you.

What's the next step?

This activity is beneficial in and of itself, as a way for you to see how your thinking affects your tension levels, and that when you put your attention on your muscular tension, you can find some relief.

The next step you might explore is to consider the source of your worry or concern.   Which thoughts are based on current facts, and which are the result of anticipatory anxiety?   For those that are based on facts, what actions can you take to address the concerns?   For those based on anticipation of what might happen, go back to working with your muscle tension as a way to reduce the impact this habit of thought has on your stress levels.

The Habit of Dissatisfaction*

As a child, growing up in the United States, and particularly as a student in American academia, I developed the tendency to respond to my circumstances with dissatisfaction. I was inclined to focus on what needed to be changed or fixed, how to garner or continue to get approval, and to seek distraction from my habitual internal dialogue and attitude towards my life circumstances. This attitude was reinforced by the people around me, by the media, and in particular, by advertisers.

Read More