The Art of Self Management

I recently watched this PBS News Hour segment about Zappos, the Las Vegas based online retailer of shoes, and other clothing items.  Zappos is famous for it’s amazing customer service, and for it’s unique and quirky corporate culture which emphasizes, among other things, an adventurous, creative, and open-minded approach to work.

As Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO, mentioned in the interview, the company encourages self-management rather than traditional hierarchical, management from above.

That phrase – self-management – immediately jumped out at me.

Self-management – that’s exactly what I think most Alexander Technique teachers would agree they are  teaching their students.  It’s certainly what I’m always trying to do during a lesson.

Does that mean we’re training our students to work for Zappos, or a similar company?

Not really.  What Hsieh is talking about is empowering his employees to think for themselves and to do their jobs as best they can, with as little direct supervision as possible.  He wants his employees to take initiative and go through their workday doing what they believe is the best way to get their jobs done.

Alexander Technique teachers are also empowering their students to think for themselves, but we’re not primarily interested in the specific activities our students have chosen to do.  We’re not their CEO!

What we are interested in is HOW they do the specific activities they have chosen to do – at work, at home, anywhere.

So, for example, if someone needs to spend a few (or many) hours working at a computer, we’re interested in what they’re doing with their body while doing that, and in showing them ways to do it with less strain and greater ease.

If their job involves sorting, lifting, and packaging of mail orders, we’re interested in how they can do those tasks more easily, and with less likelihood of injury.

We’re teaching a process that could be thought of as “internal self-management.”

Of course there is some overlap between the Zappos idea of self management and ours.

For example, Zappos has a lot of employees who work in phone support. They’re sitting at a computer terminal and speaking on the phone with dozens of customers a day, many of whom may have a problem with an order or a complaint of some kind.  These employees are told to spend as much time as is needed to take care of problems and, in fact, one customer representative was singled out for special praise for spending over 10 hours on the phone with a single customer to resolve an issue!

My guess is that might not have happened if she was in pain from sitting so long or found herself getting laryngitis after a few hours of speaking.

Those are exactly the kind of issues the Alexander Technique can help with. It’s truly the art of self management.

If you’re intrigued, check out: How to Find an Alexander Technique Teacher or Course

Please share your comments below and/or on Facebook.

Atlas Talks About the Alexander Technique

Sculpture of Atlas inaccurately depicting him holding the earth on his shoulders.

I recently had an opportunity to interview Atlas, the Titan god of astronomy and navigation.  Because he and his brother Prometheus found themselves on the losing end of the war between the Titans and the Olympian gods, Atlas was condemned by Zeus to stand forever on the western side of the earth, holding the sky on his shoulders.

A few years ago, high-speed internet service became available on the western side, and Atlas was able to take some Alexander Technique lessons using Skype.  We also used Skype to conduct our interview.

Me: Atlas, it’s a great honor to talk with you today.

Atlas: It’s a pleasure to chat with you Robert!  I feel I owe a great deal to the Alexander Technique and I’m happy to assist in any way I can to let others know how helpful it can be.

Me: I’m a little ashamed to admit that until recently I was unaware of your back story – how you came to to your present situation. And I originally thought you had to hold up the earth itself.

Atlas: The other Titans and me often have a good laugh about that!  Think about it – if I were holding the earth on my shoulders, what would be holding me?

Me: Indeed. But I assume is was something about your work that brought you to the Technique?

Atlas: It was. As you know my work IS my life – I have to stand in basically the same place 24/7, 365 days a year, keeping the sky from falling.  Even with my astonishing size and strength, it’s a lifestyle that can easily lead to physical discomfort and even pain.

Me: What were the specific issues that brought you to the Technique?

Atlas: My main issues were neck and shoulder pain and extreme discomfort in my legs. it was the leg issue that turned out to be primary, so to speak.

Me: Please tell me more.

Atlas: Well my Alexander teacher pointed something out that I’d never thought of: While I had to stay in pretty much the same place all the time, I didn’t need to fix my legs the way I had been doing.  There were possibilities of small movements in my ankle, knee and hip joints which I could make – small amounts of bending, twisting etc which allowed me to introduce some ease in my legs.

At first, my teacher suggested simply experimenting with these tiny movements without any specific Alexander directions, but once I’d become used to them and didn’t worry that I’d drop the sky, she suggested I combine the movements with what she called Freedom Directions* like “I’m free” or “My ankles are free” etc. Those directions, combined with the movements, created a whole new quality of ease in my legs.  They came to feel like living parts of me, not like stone pillars, and I found over time that I could move my leg joints through larger and larger ranges of movement.

Eventually I could even move around a little!

Me: That’s wonderful Atlas.  What was the solution for you neck and shoulder pain?

Atlas: Well that’s the amazing thing.  Once my legs became freer, they were also also able to allow me to be in balance and to transfer the support of the Earth up through them to my torso and head. I discovered (I’m proud to say on my own, between lessons) that I could harness the Earth’s support in the service of keeping the sky from falling.**

Me: So that meant that your shoulders didn’t have to work as hard?

Atlas: Exactly!  I came to realize I could substitute ease and balance for fixing and holding – I could be a channel between sky and earth, allowing the downward pull of the one to nicely balance the upward push of the other.  Needless to say, my life has become a lot easier and more pleasant.

Me: I’m so happy for you Atlas!  But, still, don’t you find it a bit bothersome to have to be doing the same thing all the time – no vacations, no time to visit with the kids, no time to kick back and just enjoy life?

Atlas: Well you know I am a god, not a human being.  So I have a whole different set of priorities.  For me, it’s an honor to keep the sky from falling and now that I can do that without being in pain, I’m free to enjoy my mission for the good it produces. By the way, I’m very proud that I have become the anatomical name for the first cervical vertebra, which supports the head.  The epicenter of the head/neck relationship that is of so much importance in the Alexander Technique.  I smile whenever I use the Freedom Direction “My atlas is free.”

And, to tell the truth, sometime at night, when nobody is looking, I do a little dance using my new flexibility and balance.  Life’s good for me now, and I’m so glad I’ve been able to benefit from F. Matthias’s Alexander’s discoveries.

Me: Atlas, thank you so much for this interview.  And, on behalf of all the inhabitants of the Earth, thank you for keeping the sky from falling.

*You can learn more about Freedom Directions here: New Developments in Alexander Technique Directions

**More about the Earth’s support can be found here: Gravity, Support and Freedom – And the Alexander Technique

Walking the Floor with Alexander

My Alexander Technique students – both in person and on Skype – are often surprised when I ask, usually during their first lesson, detailed questions about the flooring in their homes and workplaces. After she’d had a few of lessons, one student said that my eyes seemed to light up when she told me she lived in an older house with original wood flooring and hardly any rugs!

No, it’s not some kind of weird floor fetish.  Or a repressed desire to be an interior decorator.

Floors, and more specifically how our feet arrive at them when we walk, can be a very useful “mirror” for observing changes in the way we use our bodies.

(A short digression for those not familiar with the origins of the Alexander Technique: F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Technique made use of mirrors to give him accurate feedback about what he was doing – the kind of feedback he could not get from what he felt he was doing.*  Alexander teachers today still use mirrors for this purpose when teaching, although some have moved on to video cameras and monitors. Floors can function as a sort of “sound mirror.”)

Here’s how I use the wooden floor that takes up most of my teaching studio: When I teach a student to use an Alexander Technique direction, I often start by using walking as a framework for exploration. I’ll ask the student to use a thought like “I am free” as they walk around the studio and then, at some point, I’ll ask them to keep walking and throw the direction away.

(Short digression #2: If you’re unfamiliar with Alexander directions, and how to use them, here’s a good place to learn more about them: New Directions in Alexander Technique Directing)

More often than not they will hear a significant difference in the sound their feet make as they arrive at the floor at the very moment they throw the thought away.  Sometimes they will also feel increased pressure on the soles of their feet.  They may even notice a bit of compression in their bodies.

What they’re noticing is a sudden return to their habitual way of walking. Then, as they continue walking, they can lightly bring the direction back and they may well notice that their footfalls sound lighter again.

Even if all they notice is the louder sound of their footfalls when they abandon the direction, that’s an opportunity for me to make an important point:  If the sound of their feet got louder due to a tiny mental change – and bearing in mind that feet are as far away from the brain as you can get – then everything else in their body must have also changed in some way.

There is, after all, no direct outside channel between their brains and their feet!

I’ll often pause the lesson at that point to give the student a little time to digest that experience and it’s huge implications.

At the end of the lesson, I assign my students the “homework” of experimenting with this direction, and others I give them, on their own in a variety of activities – but especially walking.  And that’s when I delve into their floor situation. I also ask them to wear shoes with hard soles at first during their experiments so that the sound of their footfalls is as loud as possible.**

I invite you, dear reader, to perform the experiment yourself and let me know, either here and/or on Facebook, what you discover.

*Alexander’s idea to use mirrors for this purpose almost certainly comes from training in the Delsarte Method, which he later taught for several years. You can learn more about that connection here: Francois Delsarte’s Influence on F. Matthias Alexander and the Alexander Technique

**When I’m teaching in Lincoln, Nebraska, a great many of my students have wooden flooring in at least some part of their home.  If they don’t have wooden floors, there are often have hard surfaces somewhere in their house, a good second choice.  In Toronto, Canada where I teach regularly, wooden floors are much harder to come by.  Toronto is condo-city and the concrete floors are more often than not covered by thick carpeting, although sometimes there is hardwood or laminate installed over the concrete.

The title for this blog was inspired by “Walking the Floor Over You,” by the Late Great, Ernest Tubb. The song was first released in 1941 and one critic has called it the honky tonk song that launched the honky tonk musical genre. Here he is, back in 1961, already a Living Legend!

Floor ImageCopyright : Igor Stevanovic 123rf.com

Lilies of the Field

Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

This blog was inspired by a recent Facebook post from Fay Putnam, an Alexander Technique teacher in Portland, Oregon who thinks and writes a lot about breathing.  She wrote:

The circle of breath… the exhale and the return/arrival of air. So it goes. We pause; the breath arrives. We are born; we cry out. Think about it – the season of life, one big circle. The world cries out around us and it does not seem to wait for the breath of life to arrive. It seems to cry out more and more and more. The circle, the rhythm is broken. There is a void, an emptiness, a grasping for relief and air. Thus it seems, with all the noise about us. In our angst to grab relief as well as air we hold and keep it, that precious air.

The swirling noise becomes entrapped and our brains and voices become stuck. We cease to be full. It is ironic that we hold on to our stale beliefs and ideas along with the stale air. We even cease crying out, in our stuck selves. We are afraid there will not be enough; we take and grab breath. We are closed to the fact that to find our authentic voices, like our breath, we must give it away. Like the newborn, we must cry out; we must first exhale. We must cry out and wait for the arrival of new air, new life, new inspiration.

There is no escape; there are no shortcuts.  – Fay Putnam

Well, I thought to myself, this is an absolutely brilliant description of a basic fact of our existence: We live in at atmosphere which creates almost 15 pounds of pressure on each square inch of our body. Air is literally being pushed into us.  When let all the air out of our lungs, and allow our diaphragm and ribs to then create a vacuum, new air rushes in without our having to do anything.

Of course we can make an effort – sucking air in to try to get more of it – but that really doesn’t help in any sustained way.  And it can cause a great deal of damage.

F. Matthias Alexander was led to develop the Alexander Technique because of making this very mistake.  He faced the challenge of reciting before large and sometime noisy audiences with no PA system, and the results were not good.

When he used mirrors to determine what he was doing that was causing his problem:

I saw that as soon as I started to recite, I tended to pull back the head, depress the larynx, and suck in breath through the mouth in such a way as to produce a gasping sound. – “Evolution of a Technique,” Use of the Self

Could it be that Alexander had been just a little too eager* to recite effectively in this challenging situation, and that his eagerness caused him to gasp for air?  Air that was already being pushed into his lungs?

I believe Alexander’s major accomplishment can be seen as the development of a method that teaches practical ways for us to organize ourselves to benefit from atmospheric pressure – and from the other forces we encounter as we go through life. In Alexander’s case the immediate issue concerned the force of the atmosphere. I believe the same general dynamic appears with basic forces like gravity, support, and electromagnetic forces like light and heat.**

Unlike the lilies of the field, we humans can “learn” how to interfere with optimal self-organization.  Alexander came up with a method we can learn to bring it back.

Alexander also had a support issue. He writes that in addition to his gasping for air habit:

Observation in the mirror showed me that when I was standing to recite I was using these other parts in certain wrong ways which synchronized with my wrong way of using my head and neck, larynx, vocal and breathing organs, and which involved a condition of undue muscle tension throughout my organism. I observed that this condition of undue muscle tension affected particularly the use of my legs, feet, and toes, my toes being contracted and bent downwards in such a way that my feet were unduly arched, my weight thrown more on to the outside of my feet than it should have been, and my balance interfered with.

On discovering this, I thought back to see if I could account for it, and I recalled an instruction that had been given to me in the past…when I was taking lessons in dramatic expression and interpretation. Not being pleased with my way of standing and walking, (my teacher) would say to me from time to time, ” Take hold of the floor with your feet.”

Carrying out this instruction prevented him from simply allowing the floor’s support force to flow freely up through his body. As with gasping for air, he was attempting to grab something that was already there. And that grabbing prevented the force from being used effectively and intelligently.

As I said earlier, we receive all the forces of nature – we have no choice about that.  But we do have a choice about how we receive them and our choice can have a huge effect on how we function.

I’d love to read your comments below and/or on Facebook.

***

*Alexander was “end-gaining,” to use today’s Alexander Technique jargon.

**You can learn more about these forces, and how you can use the Technique to make the best use of them at Gravity, Support and Freedom

Lilly image copyright: supathral / 123RF Stock Photo

Who’s Minding Your Brain?

Our minds influence the key activity of the brain, which then influences everything; perception, cognition, thoughts and feelings, personal relationships; they’re all a projection of you. – Deepak Chopra

Alexander Technique teachers and their students have been successfully using their minds to influence their bodies, and parts of their bodies, for over a century. Alexander Technique Directions are mental processes whose purpose is to improve physical and mental functioning.

In a previous post, Taking a Walk down Easy Street, I described two sequences of Directions which I found very useful in walking, and in other activities.  The first began at the my feet and moved upward to my head, and eventually to my eyes.  The second traveled back down from my eyes to my feet.

The particular sequences I used were inspired by Imogen Ragone who shared with me a Direction she had thought of: “I am free to notice ease in my feet.” I experimented with it, found it very helpful and was inspired to expand on that idea.

But I realize now that I could have taken it one one step further and go to the source, so to speak, and  include: “I am free to notice ease in my brain.”

And that – whether used by itself or as part of a sequence – has turned out to be extremely powerful in all sorts of ways.

Here are what some members of Imogen’s Facebook page BodyIntelligence Community reported when using that Direction:

Image courtesy of Imogen Ragone

My shoulders tend to drop when I think this thought.

I have noticed ease in my brain and it has a calming effect for me.

Taking time to feel at ease with my brain is like checking in on my thoughts to see if they are compatible with my beliefs.

I’ve been finding this thought very useful, and have tried it out in various situations, including walking, as you suggested. I usually, however, notice the most significant effect when I’m working at my computer, or thinking about work!! The first thing I typically notice is a sense of spaciousness inside and out, accompanied by a deep breath that just happens spontaneously, and an overall sense of ease. I also often notice a letting go in my shoulders, too.

For me, the effects were most pronounced when I used the Direction while walking – it seemed to reorganize my whole body, especially my legs, so that it operated in an easier and more efficient manner.

It’s not at all surprising that individual experiences would be so varied.  The brain, after all, controls just about everything in ourselves, directly or indirectly.  Which is why, for example, a brain tumor which puts pressure on brain tissue, can have a huge variety of unpleasant effects, depending on where that pressure on the brain takes place.

One of things I like about the new “Brain Direction” it is that I am not able to directly sense the effects of this Direction in my brain itself.*  The effects are, however, quite apparent in other parts of my body. This “separation” is a useful quality for self-direction since it makes it easier to avoid being drawn into the Directlon’s effects while experimenting with it – making it less likely to forget the Direction that is causing those effects.

As I emphasized before, effective self directing requires softness of thought, no direct intent to actually make the Direction happen, and as little attachment in the moment as possible. (You can learn more about Alexander Technique directions and the art of directing at New Directions in Alexander Technique Directing.)

Obviously the experiments with this new direction are just a start and it would be very, very useful to have readers experiment with it and post their own findings below and on Facebook.

And please, don’t think you need to have had any Alexander Technique experience!

***

*Some people seem to be able to directly sense changes going on inside their brains.

Brain image copyright: nerthuz / 123RF Stock Photo

What is the Alexander Technique? – Part 2

This is a question Alexander Technique teachers get all the time, and one I wrote about last January in What is the Alexander Technique?  It’s something I keep coming back to.

Teachers’ replies to this most basic of questions about the Technique vary dramatically.

Some teachers are able to come up with a short, clear and easy to understand answer.

Many others appear to be flustered, as though they’re being put on the spot, and often preface their reply with phrases like “Well that’s a tough question.” or “I was afraid you’d ask me that.” They may say something like: “It can’t adequately be described with words – you have to experience it for yourself.”  Sometime their answer is so jargon-riddled that it’s impossible for ordinary people to comprehend.

It’s easy for those of us who teach the Alexander Technique to understand the many reasons behind these seemingly bizarre replies – for example our unfamiliar way of thinking about posture, pain, and stress, our concern that anything we say can easily be misinterpreted, etc.

But still…it must seem bizarre to a questioner why there is so much reluctance to giving the answer to a  very obvious and basic question. A question which, if anybody ought to know how to answer, it would be a teacher of the Technique!

A brief pause here…nothing I’m writing here is meant as a criticism of my colleagues. I am, or have been, guilty of all these ways of describing the Technique.  It’s taken me years to feel confident and comfortable answering the “what is” question.

In this regard I owe a lot to the late Marjorie Barstow.  More often than not, she would begin a workshop by asking everyone for their definition of the Technique.  Of course some participants, new to the process, couldn’t answer the question, and Marj was fine with that.

Some of the answers were excellent. My favorite (and Marj’s too) was from one of her ongoing students, Dr Alfred Flechas.  He suggested: “The Alexander Technique is a way of learning how to release harmful tension from your body.”

I often use that answer myself as it seems to resonate with a lot of people. Sometimes I say: “Its a method of helping people do whatever they want to do more easily and with less unnecessary strain.”

And sometimes, particularly when my contact with the questioner if fleeting – going through customs for example – I say: “It’s a way to help people improve their posture and co-ordination.”

My current favorite answer – but definitely not for everyone! – is: “It’s a way to make the best use of our physical structure and of the forces that operate on us as we go about our lives on the surface our planet.”*

I’m always looking for better answers – which is one reason why at the beginning of my podcasts I ask the person I’m interviewing to give their short definition or description of the Technique.  In some ways it’s not surprising that many of the best answers come from Alexander students as they are often free of the trepidations many teachers have.

Actually, I’m much more comfortable these days talking about Alexander’s discoveries – what they were and how we can make use of them for ourselves.  But that is a topic for another blog.  In the meantime, you might want to read this excellent article by Alexander Technique teacher Nicholas Brockbank, What Did Alexander Discover – And Why is it Important?

One final thought: It’s interesting that F. Matthias Alexander himself never gave a concise answer to the question.  Indeed, as far as I know, he never even used the term “Alexander Technique”!  Maybe that’s because he started his teaching career as a teacher of the Delsarte Method**, shedding that identity only after he moved to England in 1904, and perhaps not feeling comfortable attaching his name to what he was doing.  From that time on, he generally referred to to his teaching as “the work” or “my work.”

Alexander was also very clear in his writings that he viewed his work as just the beginning of an ongoing process of discovery and innovation.

For me this history, and the very nature of the Alexander Technique itself, means there is no single “official” Alexander Technique definition.  Individual teachers, students and professional societies have come up with their own definitions of course.  But they can – and often do – change over time, reflecting new developments or the sort that Alexander expected would take place.

And now dear readers a final question: What is your definition of the Alexander Technique?

I’d love to read your answers below and/or on Facebook.

*More on the inspiration for this direction can be found at Gravity, Support and Freedom – and the Alexander Technique

**More on the Alexander/Delsarte connection can be found at Francois Delsarte’s influence on F. Matthias Alexander and the Alexander Technique

Image Copyright: lupobianco / 123RF Stock Photo

 

Taking A Walk Down Easy Street

Have patience. All things are difficult before they become easy. – Saadi

As I was walking in my neighborhood yesterday evening, I experimented with some new Alexander Technique directions, based on an idea that originated with Alexander Technique teacher Imogen Ragone. She has cleverly synthesized Jenniifer Roig-Francoli’s Freedom Directions with Mio Morales’ prosses of noticing ease in your body.*

Imogen suggested: “I am free to notice ease in my feet.”

I had earlier done some experimenting with this direction and the results were quite striking.  So I thought I’d take it to the next level.

But…before I describe that, a reminder that effective self directing requires softness of thought, no direct intent to actually make the direction happen, and as little attachment in the moment as possible. (You can learn more about Alexander Technique directions and the art of directing at New Directions in Alexander Technique Directing.  In addition, Imogen’s Face Book group, BodyIntelligence Community,  often contains helpful information on this type of thinking.)

With that in mind, I’ll go through two direction sequences I used. I generally used each individual direction within the sequences for a few seconds before moving on to the next.  These sequences are in no way meant to be an established procedure, but I do believe they can provide an powerful framework within with to explore F. M. Alexander’s method of self improvement.

Here are the two sequences I explored as I was walking:

Sequence 1:

“I am free to notice the ease in my feet”

“I am free to notice the ease in my legs”

“I am free to notice the ease in my pelvis”

“I am free to notice the ease in my torso and neck”

“I am free to notice the ease in my head and jaw”

“I am free to notice the ease in my tongue”

“I am free to notice the ease in my eyes”

At this point I’d continue walking for perhaps a minute or so and then use the following reverse sequence:

Sequence 2:

“I am free to notice the ease in my eyes”

“I am free to notice the ease in my tongue”

And so on, ending with:

“I am free to notice the ease in my feet?

Again, after walking a bit, I would start the first sequence again.

My experience with these sequences is that each direction seemed to build on the previous ones.  At the end of the walk I felt that I was indeed moving with a great deal more ease and freedom.

Please feel free to explore these sequences, and their individual components on you own.

Your comments/suggestions are most welcome – either below and/or on Facebook.

*My preliminary take on why this synthesis is so powerful is that it’s a helpful way to inhibit any subtle ideas you might have about “helping out” with the direction.

OK, this is totally off topic, but I couldn’t help humming this great country song, written and originally sung by Freddie Hart, as I was writing the blog. This is Loretta and Conway’s version:

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lay Your Burden Down

21139668 - concept of stress of a businessman with a big rockThe other day I was working with one of my Alexander Technique students, showing her how she could stand with ease.  Like a great many people, she had a habit of pushing her upper torso back and her pelvis forward a bit as she stood.

As I gently guided her out of that pattern and into a different, and totally unfamiliar way way of standing – one in which she initially felt she was pitched too far forward – she exclaimed: “I feel like I just dropped a huge burden!”

As the late Marjorie Barstow would often say to students in a similar situation, “What you’re feeling is the absence of tension in your body”.

What’s going on is a shift away from using muscular effort to hold oneself and instead  intelligently utilizating of our built-in capacities to be easily upright – head balanced on top of our spine, torso balanced on our hip joints, legs balanced at our ankles, and the effective use of the basic forces of the earth.(1)  Of course some effort is still needed to stand, but far, far less than before.

Substituting balance for effort can be a challenge at first, not just because it feels so strange, but also because we often have a built-in bias towards using our muscles – instead of our thinking – to make changes that will cause us to feel “right”.

As F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Technique, said: “We are so brutalized by our belief in doing and muscular tension.”(2)

Letting go of that false belief lies at the heart of “Laying your burden down.”

***

(1) You can learn more about these forces and how we can make the best use of them here.

(2) Here is Alexander’s full quote on this topic: “The trouble is none of my pupils will believe that all they need to do is to think and that wish for the neck to be free will do the trick.  I can now with my hands make any alternation in anyone, but none will trust to the thought. We are so brutalized by by our belief in doing and muscular tension.” – from Training with F. M, a diary of Sir George Trevelyan, a student on Alexander’s first teacher training course. This quote comes from the period 1933-1934.

Copyright: alphaspirit / 123RF Stock Photo

The Leanings of Clinton and Trump – and the Future of the World

Recently I’ve been thinking about the concept of Leaning In, a phrase popularized by Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook in her bestselling book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

For her, the phrase is a metaphor for being assertive and embracing risk in order to achieve the greatest level of success in the workplace. But as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I’m particularly interested in the physical aspects of leaning in – or it’s opposite, leaning back.

Especially today when America – and the world – will witness the first Presidential Debate in which Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump go face to face on the same stage. Both candidates’ non-verbal communication patterns will be on view for all to see, including their leaning propensities.

Non-verbal patterns have been shown to be at least as important as words in influencing audiences, so the way the 100 million expected viewers react to what they see may well decide the outcome of the election.

It will come as no surprise that Trump is a big-time leaner-in.  At times so much that it has an element of aggressiveness.

Clinton doesn’t lean a lot, but when she does, it’s my impression that she leans back a bit – as if she wants to get away from her audience.  And that could explain some of her perceived failure to connect on a personal level.

(President Obama seems to hardly ever lean, but when he does, it seems to be slightly in.)

I’ll be glued to my TV this evening – 9PM Eastern time, 6PM Pacific time.  You might want record it in order to take a closer look at the candidate’s leaning patterns and I’d love it if you post what you see, either below or on Facebook.

***

Here is a podcast interviews I did with Imogen Ragone about the physical aspects of Leaning In:

And here are three earlier blogs related to this topic: The Posture of Power, The Posture of Power – Part 2, and Studies in Political Posture – Bernie Sanders

http://www.bodylearningblog.com/the-posture-of-power-part-2/Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

You’re a Nice Place to Visit, but Would You Want to Live There?

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

The most important question you can ever ask is: ‘Is the universe is a friendly place?’ – Albert Einstein

He added: … if we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe. Because power and safety will come through understanding its workings and its motives.*

Perhaps the most important question you can ask about yourself is something along the lines of: Am I a friendly place?

If we can say with certainly that the answer is “yes”, then we have every reason use our intelligence to understand how we function, and how to improve our functioning.

Luckily for us it’s easy to verify that “yes” in indeed the answer – at least in the realm of our posture and physical co-ordination – by using a “paradoxical” Alexander Technique direction.

Do you want to check this out for yourself?

Here’s how:

First, choose any activity you do on a regular basis.  it could be speaking, chopping vegetables, working at a computer, climbing stairs – anything you can easily experiment with.

My personal favorite for this kind of exploration is walking, so I’ll use that as an example.

Start by standing and very gently thinking to yourself I am not walking. Continuing that thought, move around the room. After a few steps, continuing to move, toss the I am not walking thought away.  After a few steps, gently bring the I am not walking thought back.

What did you notice at the moment you stopped thinking I am not walking?  And when you brought the thought back?

(If Alexander directing is completely new to you, here are a few more detailed instructions: First, absolutely no holding on to the thought I am not walking. You’ll almost certainly forget it, and when you notice you have, just gently bring it back.  In other words, be totally forgiving of forgetting. Second, if you’re adding extra thoughts – like This is silly or What does this mean? just gently tell yourself that those thoughts can be entertained later, but not during the experiment. Third, let go of any intention to make anything happen, or not happen.  Just the simple thought I am not walking. It may also be useful to choose a hard, or creaky wooden, floor and wear shoes with hard soles to make it easier for you to notice the sound made by your foot falls.  You can learn more about Alexander Technique directing here: New Developments in Alexander Technique Directing)

You’ll probably notice that when you switch away from I am not walking, your feet come down a little more heavily on the floor.  You might also hear a louder sound from your feet as they arrive at the floor.  And you might also sense a little downward compression in your torso.  And when you gently bring the direction back, there is less pressure on your feet and on the rest of you.

What’s going on here?

I believe that saying I am not walking is shorthand for this longer, more cumbersome, message for your body: I don’t want to walk in my usual wayFind another way for me to walk.

You might well be thinking that logically your body would be just as likely to come up with a heavier, less efficient, manner of walking as it is to move you in the direction of lightness and ease.  After all, you only asked for a different way of walking.

However – and to me this is truly amazing – in my experience, with myself and my students –  that NEVER HAPPENS!  With walking – or swimming (I am not swimming) or using a computer (I am not using the computer) or pretty much any other activity.

I take that as an indication that my body (and yours!) is a friendly part of a friendly universe – that it wants the best for you and is just waiting for you to give it the opportunity to show how it can help you.

And that makes me happy and proud to be living in such a friendly location and motivates me to continue working to improve myself.

***

I’d love to hear your experiences with paradoxical Alexander Technique directions, and how you interpret them.

* Einstein also addressed the implications of the other 2 possible answers:

If we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly and I believe that we are getting to a place where technology is powerful enough that we may either completely isolate or destroy ourselves as well in this process.

If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially ‘playing dice with the universe’, then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning.

 

Einstein image copyright: photoestelar / 123RF Stock Photo