Change Your Tune

I once assisted the late Marjorie Barstow on a teaching trip to a large mid-western university where she gave classes in the Alexander Technique to Music Department faculty and students.

In one class, a professor asked for help playing the trumpet.  He was clearly a talented musician, but he was adding quite a bit of unnecessary tension to his body when he played.  Indeed, even before he began to play, just picking up the instrument seemed to trigger a good deal of that tension.

As Marj worked with him, a lot of his tension dropped away and the quality of his playing improved dramatically.  So much so that even I – a somewhat tone deaf non-musician – could easily hear the change.

Marj would occasionally stop and ask him what he noticed.  His reply was always something like: “I feel so much easier, and I can tell the sound is better but…”  The words following the “but” were phrases like “…it doesn’t feel right” or “…I’m sure I’ll lose this right away” or “…I can never do this on my own”

On and on he went and each time Marj said nothing and resumed helping him with a bit more playing. Then, after about his 5th negative thought, out of her mouth popped the phrase, “You better change your tune!”

Marj and me, taken in 1989 when Marj was only 90 years old.

Marj and me, taken in 1989 when Marj was only 90 years old.

It happened so fast, so softly, and so unexpectedly, that I don’t think most of the people in the room consciously noticed it.  Certainly not the professor, who seemed very briefly to be in a state of severe mental confusion.  But after than, he started playing again, with no help from Marj, in a way that incorporated much of what she had shown him.

And the next day, when she worked with him, there was not a trace of his earlier negative thinking.  He had “changed his tune.”

I asked Marj about what she had said but, as I expected, she had no memory of it although she agreed he had made a significant change in his thinking and playing.

Marj, who at that point had been thinking about and experimenting with F. Matthias Alexander’s discoveries for nearly 70 years, would insert powerful transformative phrases – little zingers, really – that seemed to come out of nowhere and which would re-direct a student’s thinking in a useful way. For the most part they they went unnoticed at a conscious level.*

How did she do this?  Who knows, but I guess if you’ve immersed yourself in a field of study for as long as Marj, you develop the skill of spontaneously intervening in just the right way and in just the right time to help the person you’re working with.

I’m now at about 35 years teaching experience and I’m sometimes pleasantly surprised at what I say or do during a lesson.

I’m hoping this will become a more frequent experience over the next 35 years!

If you’re an Alexander Technique teacher, have you had similar experiences? Please leave your comments below, or on Facebook.

And if you’ve not had Alexander Technique lessons, and want to start the new year by changing your tune, you can locate a teacher here: How to Find a Teacher of the Alexander Technique

*Anyone familiar with Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) watching Marj would find many examples of classic NLP interventions.  This is not surprising given that many of those interventions were based on extremely detailed, second-by-second observations of therapists who were known to be extremely effective, often in rather orthodox ways.  Marj, while not a therapist, would have made a perfect subject for the early NLP researchers.

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What is Our Supreme Inheritance?

Answer #1: It’s the title – almost! – of F. Matthias Alexander’s first book, Man’s Supreme Inheritance – originally published in 1910 and republished in an expanded version in 1918 with an added sub-title, Conscious Guidance and Control in Relation to Human Evolution in Civilization and an introduction by the American educator and philosopher John Dewey.

Answer #2: Our supreme inheritance is our ability to use our mind to make conscious choices about how we function as we go through life.

Alexander was the originator of the Alexander Technique and his book, the first of four*, lays out his theory that “the great phase in man’s advancement is that in which he passes from subconscious to conscious control of his own mind and body.”

I also particularly love this quote from Alexander:

OK, you may be thinking, this all sounds good, but lots of other systems, religions, philosophies etc make similar promises.  What’s special about Alexander and his Technique?

Let’s start with Alexander the man.  He was born on the island of Tasmania in 1869 where he grew up in very humble circumstances, and with almost no formal education, before moving to the mainland of Australia.

Back then Tasmania was a violent semi-penal colony. Both of Alexander’s parents were children of convicts deported from England. It’s inhabitants were generally looked down upon by other Australians, in somewhat the same way that Australians were looked down upon at the time by many people in England. Tasmania was at the far edge of the British empire, socially and geographically – not at all the popular bucolic vacation spot it has become today!

And yet…Alexander moved to London in 1904 with letters of recommendation from prominent physicians and within a few years became quite well known in theatrical, and even some upper class social, circles as a man with a remarkable talent in helping people improve their physical functioning.  He acquired the nickname “The Breathing Man” because of his ability to improve his students’ respiratory functioning.

It’s hard to conceive of a modern equivalent.  For England today, perhaps a sheep farmer living in the FaIkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean hopping on a boat to London to share a new philosophical insight which attracts immediate attention in academic circles.  For America, maybe an impoverished Aleut-Eskimo fisherman from one of tiny Islands spread out in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Siberia, flying to New York to display his exciting new paintings which captivate the art world and lead to a new artistic style.

Alexander obviously had charisma. And talent. And the kind of Australian pluck that later converted a penal colony into the Land of Oz. But equally important, I think, is the fact that his teaching was to a large extent focused on physical functioning, even though it had powerful effects far beyond that.

The kinds of improved physical functioning that Alexander was able to help his students achieve is relatively easy for both the student and his or her friends and family to notice.  Especially when, as was often the case, the improvements happened fairly quickly, often after just a few lessons.

That is still true today. The Alexander Technique has a huge advantage over many other self-improvement programs because it’s effects are often nearly immediate and highly visible and sensible. That, coupled with Alexander’s insight that there is no real separation between “body” and “mind” means that Alexander’s work can be appreciated on multiple levels.

The Technique’s effectiveness can be readily tested: a simple thought like “I am free,” properly self delivered, can fairly easily be shown to bring about an in-the-moment improvement in physical functioning. See, for example, Throw it Away! and The Shockingly Easy Way To Improve Your Posture – And The Way You Do Everything You Do.

For me, that’s one of the most distinctive and appealing features of the Alexander Technique.  You don’t have to wait weeks, months, years or a lifetime to verify it’s effectiveness.  Once you learn a few basics. your “leap of faith” need only take a few seconds.

And for you, the reader, if you haven’t already explored the Alexander Technique, perhaps this will encourage to you do so, and claim your own personal Supreme Inheritance.

* You can order Alexander’s books from the Alexander Technique Bookstore

The Shockingly Easy Method To Improve Your Posture – And The Way You Do Everything You Do

14461458_s It is natural for our bodies to work efficiently – Patrick Macdonald.

MacDonald was one of the first people trained to be an Alexander Technique teacher, in the early 1930s,  and his observation was based on over 50 year’s experience teaching the Technique.

Our physical structure is perfectly adapted for our life on the surface of earth, with it’s array of forces operating on us 24/7 – gravity, support, atmospheric pressure (the result of gravity), light, heat etc.*

We are most definitely not paying the price for having an upright posture – as some have suggested – to explain the high incidence of common physical maladies, such as back or neck pain. We are, as MacDonald suggests, designed to to move freely, in balance, with minimum effort.

Our problems often occur when we misuse ourselves by unconsciously creating harmful habits of posture and movement.  As the old comic book character Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and they are us.”

The Alexander Technique is largely concerned with bringing these harmful patterns to light and learning how to let go of them.

Beyond our amazing physical structure, there is another aspect of ourselves which very few people seem to be aware of: Our innate desire to sit, stand and move more efficiently.

This desire on our part to improve – or perhaps it could be called an extremely strong bias – is what makes the Alexander Technique work so well for so many people.  How else to explain the striking benefits in physical functioning so many people experience after having only a few short lessons.

One of the easiest ways you can experience this inherent desire to improve is to experiment with the use of a paradoxical “negative” Alexander Technique direction.  We’ll use walking as a framework for you to engage in a bit of easy self-exploration.

Here’s your assignment: With your shoes on, and using a wooden floor or perhaps a hard surface like a concrete sidewalk, take a very short walk and think to yourself, softly and lightly, the phrase “I am not walking.”  Then, as you continue walking, throw that thought away for a few steps, and then bring it back for a few steps. Keep the time frame for any one experiment to under 20-30 seconds. (A noisy wooden floor, is ideal for this kind of experiment because it gives you direct auditory feedback on the heaviness of your footfalls.)

This will NOT work well if you’re doing any of the following:

  1. Concentrating on the direction.
  2. Trying to keep the direction instead of accepting the likelihood you will forget it and then, when you notice you’ve forgotten it, gently bringing it back.
  3. Trying in any way to make the direction happen.  Your only job is to have a light, but definite, intent.
  4. Thinking a different thought – for example “This is crazy, of course I’m walking!”
  5. Getting drawn into the effects of your direction at the expense of the direction itself during the experiment.  The time to be interested in results is when the experiment is over.

(A great deal more information on Alexander Technique directions, and how to use them, can be found at New Directions in Alexander Technique Directing.)

What did you notice?  If you’re not sure, repeat the experiment and put a little attention to how your feet arrive at the floor – the amount of pressure you feel in the soles of your feet and the amount of sound they make as you walk, thinking the direction, throwing it away, and bringing the direction back.

There’s a very good chance you walking got a bit lighter and more fluid and when you used that direction and when you threw the thought away, and just walked “normally”, you were a bit heavier, perhaps making more noise with your feet.

What’s going on here?

When you say “I’m not walking” you’re effectively telling your body something like: “Don’t walk the way you usually do – your idea of what walking is – and find a different way to walk.”  But that’s way too long a phrase for your mind to process, so it’s best to shorten it to “I’m not walking.”

The fact that a very light thought changes the way your whole body functions is pretty amazing in itself.

But even more startling is that the change is always for the better. After all, your body could logically do what you ask by creating a worse way of walking. But in my experience, and the experience of many other teachers and their students, that never happens!

You can do this same sort of experiment with any activity.  For example: “I am not speaking” as you speak, “I am not lying down” as you lie in your bed, and “I am not breathing” as air flows into and out of your lungs.

Let me know what you discover, and your thoughts on why the change brought about by this kind of direction is always for the better.  Please leave comments below, or post them on Facebook.

*You can learn more about these forces, and how they effect us, here: Gravity Support and Freedom, and the Alexander Technique.

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The Posture of Power – Part 2

26049155_sIn my last blog, The Posture of Power, I wrote about politicians and televangelists – two of my favorite groups to observe. I love to watch them because they generally have pretty good posture and use of their their bodies. And because they’re frequently on display for us to observe – particularly for those of us living in America right now!

Members of both groups also tend to be good public speakers.

Not surprising, given that their job is to convince their listeners to support them, either with votes or money.

Of course there are exceptions and we have a nice example right now in the person of Jeb Bush – or JEB!, as his campaign posters call him.

Bush is, in his opponent and nemesis Donald Trump’s words, a “low energy guy” and it’s pretty easy to see this when he speaks.

A recent article in the Toronto Star, ‘Jeb’s Dead’: Why the Bush campaign is nearly over, cites several Republican operatives on Bush’s speaking ability.  My favorite came from one Buddy Burkheardt, the Republican chairman in Knox County, Tennessee who said: “I think Jeb has a good message. I don’t think he’s the orator to get that message to the people…I think he’s saying the right words, but…”

So what can someone who needs to be able to speak more effectively – Bush, or other candidates, or actors, or singers, or people like you and me – do to in order to accomplish this?

Well, F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique was an orator who had to perform in very difficult situations – large recital halls, rowdy audiences, no PA system – in late 19th Century Australia.

Alexander had a good message to deliver (mostly sections from Shakespeare’s plays) but a flawed method of delivering it.

He had considerable talent, but he unconsciously got in his own way, primarily by tightening his neck, which had the effect of blocking the full expression of his vocal abilities.  Eventually, after a few years of diligent self-observation and self-experimentation, he discovered a way to release that harmful tension. He went on to develop a teaching method that’s been used for well over a century.

Although Alexander’s Technique has a long history of helping people improve their speaking and singing voices – and is taught at many major theater schools – there is no scientific study that specifically addresses this connection.

It’s difficult to imagine how such a study could be done. But – the next best thing! – there is a recent large-scale medical study from the UK which shows that lessons in the Alexander Technique is an effective way to lessen neck pain.  You can read all about it here.

As my colleague Alan Bowers points on in a recent blog post:

“It’s not just a neck, it’s your throat!.. Sufferers from neck pain, constriction of the throat, the Alexander Technique may be your answer.”

Amen, Alan!

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The Posture of Power

Since discovering the Alexander Technique many years ago, I’ve been fascinated by the posture and movement patterns I observe in others.

When I see someone that appears to have a dysfunctional pattern, I ask myself: “How are they doing that?” and “Is it possible I’m doing something like that – or perhaps something that’s the opposite of what I see?”

When I see someone who stands, sits and moves with ease – Fred Astaire is one of my favorites – I ask the same sort of questions.

Early on I developed a special interest in two groups of people, both of which it seemed to me to have generally better use of themselves than the general public.

The first group is politicians. It all started one evening while channel surfing on a cold winter evening in Toronto. I stumbled onto the local community access channel which was streaming a Metro Toronto City Council debate. The topic of the debate – sidewalk repairs in an outer burb – held no interest for me, but I noticed that almost all the speakers had what I would characterize as free necks and jaws when they spoke.

I expanded my observation to broadcasts of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, The British Parliament, and speeches on the floor of the US Congress – and to politicians generally.

I saw very few examples of what Alexander Technique teachers would call “poor use”.

Over time I came to realize that an aspiring politician who tenses his neck and jaw while speaking is not likely to be seen as an authoritative figure, and so probably won’t be a politician for long.

A little like an aspiring acrobat who tenses his neck while walking a high-wire. In both cases there is a sort of natural selection process that ensures that most successful politicians (and acrobats) will have good posture and movement patterns.*

As I said, there are some exceptions.  In my view, Jimmy Carter was one, and to a lesser extent Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Bernie Sanders. I’m including a short video from a 1980 Regan-Carter presidential debate in which Carter’s manner of speaking contrasts strongly with Ronald Regan’s.

The second group – and, no, I’m not especially proud of my fascination with this! – is American televangelists.  I find myself mesmerized by their deportment, and their ability to raise millions of dollars from their audience.

My all-time favorite is Jimmy Swaggart** and I’ve included an excerpt from one of his broadcasts below.  It was recorded after the first of his several falls from grace – in this case stemming from his involvement with prostitutes and drugs.

I only saw one televangelist (a weird-looking guy in Ohio who would start slow and then whip himself into a bizarre altered state as his sermon continued) who did not have a necks that were free, head lightly resting on his spine, and a jaw free to deliver the message.

Again, I think the lesson here is that an aspiring televangelist with a tight neck is not likely to be a successful televangelist.

Returning to politicians – right now, late 2015 – we in America have the opportunity to see a LOT of them!

Americans’ faith in government may at an all time low – and for good reason – but we are living in a Golden Age of political theater.

And a unique opportunity to use our observational skills as Alexander Technique students and teachers to observe the candidates’ posture and co-ordination, and to compare what we see and hear with what others observe.

Please share your own observations below – and don’t forget to include any relevant YouTube links.

In the meantime, here’s the short clip from the 1980 Presidential debate:

And here’s the clip of Jimmy Swaggart I mentioned above:

*F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique would always go to the circus when it was in town because he knew he would see examples of “good use”.

**Jimmy Swaggart, country singer Mickey Gilley, and rock and roll and country singer country Jerry Lee Louis were cousins who grew up together in Ferriday, Louisiana.

Rights to top image purchased from 123rtf.com

Mind and Body go to Couple’s Therapy – Part 2

In a previous post, Mind and Body go to Couple’s Therapy, Mind and Body talked about their issues with each other, and how they hoped the Alexander Technique would help. Arrangements were made to visit a teacher of the Technique.

A few weeks later I thought it would be interesting to see how things are going with them.  As it turned out, they are no longer they, but one Self.  So I interviewed Self about what happened.

Me: It’s must have been a big change going from Mind and Body to Self.

Self: Yes, in many ways it was.  I’ve come to realize that those two aspects on myself, that were trying to operate independently as though they were separate parts, were causing themselves a great deal of unnecessary trouble.

Me: Could you elaborate a little on that?

Self: I’ll do my best.  But I have to say first of all that this new unity is quite new to me and there is a lot about it Il don’t fully understand.

Anyway, I (back then it was we) went to a very nice lady who took plenty of time to listen to the predicament my Mind and Self found themselves in – the constant bickering and blaming.  Once we were finished, she started the Alexander Technique lesson.

And here’s what was so unexpected, and so amazing really.  She didn’t really talk about our problems in any sort of obvious way.  Instead, she used her hands to guide me into an easier way of sitting, and later standing and walking.  I felt freer than I can ever remember.

Me: That must have been quite an experience!

Self: It was indeed.  I wanted her to continue with that kind of guidance forever.  But as she said, “I can’t follow you around all day.  And, even if I could, it’s you who has to really make the changes in yourself.  Right now, I’m just showing you what’s possible.”

Me: So how were you able to make those changes yourself?

Self: It was both simple and quite challenging at first.  She introduced me to what are called Alexander Technique “directions” which are basically statements of intent – such as “I am free.” or “My neck is free.” or “My breathing is free.”  It sounds very simple – simplistic even – but those directions can produce immediate positive results as I discovered during that first lesson.

Me: Sounds easy.  What made them challenging?

Self: Well, I did say “simple” – but not necessarily easy.  She explained that the way in which those directions are self-delivered is at least as important as their content.  They need to have a very soft quality – nothing pushy or demanding.  And they’re not to be clung to.  Indeed, as she pointed out, it inevitable that I’ll forget them.  When I notice that, I just gently bring them back.  She also alerted me to a few common “traps” that one can easily fall into.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but it did take some time for me to able to self-direct effectively.  The whole learning process made it absolutely clear to me that there was no real separation between  “Mind and “Body.”

Me: Could you say more about that?

Self: Sure. As I mentioned before, I found that an Alexander Technique direction, properly delivered, produces an immediate physical change.

Similarly, putting myself in what my Alexander teacher called a “position of mechanical advantage” (she often called it the “Monkey”) or in the Constructive Rest position has a more subtle, and slower, effect of my mental state.

The goes same for “Power Poses” which Alexander teacher Imogen Ragone wrote about in her blog post Power, Presence, Confidence and Vulnerability.

Me: I can see that Mind and Body have an extremely close connection.  But are they actually unified?

Self: Good question!  I think I’ll defer to a podcast interview for the Alexander Technique Podcast you did with Alexander Technique teacher John Macy, in which that very question was asked (by you) and answered (by him)!

You can listen to it here:

 

Me: Good answer Self!  In fact that interview came about because I wasn’t able to come up with a good answer to the question myself.

Thank you so much for the interview Self!

Self: You’re most welcome Robert!

Me: I’d be very interested in hearing from Alexander Technique students and teachers about how they’ve come to see the Mind-Body question, based on their own experiences with the Technique.  Please leave your comments below.

***

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F. Matthias Alexander’s lost “Fifth Book”

Conscious Control in Relation to Human Evolution in Civilization by F. Matthias Alexander.

I suspect this title (I’ll shorten in to CC) seems vaguely familiar to most Alexander Technique teachers and serious students because of it’s similarity to Constructive Conscious Control (CCC), Alexander’s second book.  But this book was published much earlier, in 1912, very soon after the original version of Man’s Supreme Inheritance (MSI) appeared.  Indeed  CC is a sort of bridge between the two.*

It’s also surprisingly readable.  As Richard Brennan, an Alexander Technique teacher in Ireland notes, it’s a book one could give to a new student who wants to get an idea of what Alexander’s work is all about.  “It is probably the simplest and most easy-to-follow of all his books” writes Richard.

For reasons not totally understood, the book had only one limited print run and has been largely forgotten for over a century.  But thanks to a chance encounter Richard had with a student on one of his workshops in Tobago, it is now back in print and can be ordered from this page on Richard’s site: http://www.alexander.ie/fm_books.html

Here’s a little more about the book from Richard’s site:

In this book Alexander methodically sets out his claim for his method, and then backs this up with his reasons for standing by that claim. He also includes some case studies to back it up. It is a very clear description of the method devised, which he calls ‘Conscious Control’.

He discusses various topics such as:

  • breathing and physical exercises
  • the cause of physical degeneration
  • chronic indigestion
  • means-whereby and end-gaining
  • increasing powers of resistance against disease
  • correcting harmful mental habits

The book includes some general notes and case studies.

Here’s an interview for the Alexander Technique Podcast I did with Richard about the book:

 

If you order the book from Richard, email him from his site at the same time letting him know you learned about it from this blog, or from the podcast, and he’ll include a free Constructive Rest CD!  (Offer good only until December 31, 2015.)

*You can order Alexander’s four books at the Alexander Technique Bookstore

Mind and Body go to Couple’s Therapy

40362263_sOne day Mind and Body were having a chat about the challenges of their relationship.  Body was annoyed that Mind had wandered while they were walking down the street, causing Body to hit a lamp post.

“If you hadn’t put all you attention on that dog across the street – and, I might add, the dog’s owner! – I wouldn’t have this huge bruise on my forehead.”

“Well Body,” replied Mind, “sometimes I think I spend my whole life looking after you. Last night I just wanted to chill out and watch a little TV, and before the show ended I realized you’d eaten a full quart of ice cream.  We’re both still feeling the effects of that.”

“OK Mind, what do you suggest we do about these problems?  You’re supposed to be the smart one.  I just do stuff.”

“I’ve been thinking about it for awhile Body, and I recently came upon a possible solution.”

“Feel free to share it with me Mind – or are you just going to once again do whatever you want, and leave it up to me to adapt?”

“No Body, this is going to involve both of us cooperating in a whole new way.  We’ll be equal partners.”

“I’m listening Mind.”

“Well I’ve been looking into the the ideas of a man named F. Mathias Alexander and I think they could help us a great deal.

“F. Matthias – how quaint.  Where is he from?”

“Australia.”

“Australia!  I hear that’s a happening place.  Can we go there and meet him?”

“I’m afraid not Body – he’s been dead for 60 years. He actually grew up in Tasmania, an island off the coast of Australia’s mainland. It was home to prisoners and to convicts that had been shipped there from England. Although he grew up in very humble circumstances, he developed a method called the Alexander Technique that has helped many people around the world over the years.  And I believe we could use it to fix our own relationship.”

“I’m liking this F. Matthias from what you say.  Seems like he had just the kind of pluck that converted a penal colony into the Land of Oz. Tell me more Mind.”

“Well I’m no expert, but what interested me – and I think it will you too – is that his studies led him to to the conclusion that we are much more than closely connected. He felt we’re really two aspects of one self and his work was based on that concept.  In fact his most readable book was titled The Use of the Self – the word “self” meaning what he thought of as a “psychophysical” whole.”

“Mind, I love that word ‘psychophysical’.  Kind of puts us on an even footing, so to speak. I definitely want to learn more.  What’s our next step?”

“I’ve looked online and found a teacher of his method nearby.  If you’re agreeable, we can call and set up an appointment.”

“Sure let’s do that.  This could be a sort of couple’s therapy for us, don’t you think Mind?”

“Kind of.  But it’s not really a therapy so much as a teaching method.  The teacher will work with both of us – really both aspects of our self – at the same time helping us to function as a fully integrated team.”

“OK, I’m totally with the plan.  I bet we’ll become unified in a whole new way.”

“I think you’re right Body.  Let’s call now.”

***

The Use of the Self and Alexander’s other books can be ordered from Alexander Technique Books

Image licensed from 123RF stock images.

Ask And You Shall Receive – Free Energy From The Earth

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The Earth can be a wonderful source of free energy –  if we know how to ask for it.

A couple of weeks ago, I embarked on my usual after-dinner walk.  I’d had a long day of teaching and was feeling a little tired and generally low energy.  My inclination was to skip the walk, but decided some fresh air would be good for me.

As I started my walk, I did something that’s become fairly habitual for me – I gently paid attention to what I was doing to myself as I walked, without trying to change anything.

Just gathering data, as a scientist might say.

The first thing that jumped out at me was that my footfalls seemed a bit heavy and that they coincided with a general pulling down throughout my body.  Not a surprising revelation, but one that I approached this time a bit differently that I might usually have – by using general Alexander Technique freedom directions such as “I’m free.” Or “My neck is free.”(1)

I knew from experience that these would be helpful, but I decided to focus instead on my low energy level and see if there were an appropriate direction that would help more directly with that.

I’ve been experimenting with the effects of the gravitational force on me, and my students, for a long time, and more recently with the effects of the equal and opposite upward force exerted by the surface on which I was standing, walking or sitting.  And I’d been pondering the fact that force and energy are, from a physics standpoint, directly related.(2)

So for this walk, I decided to start with “I am free to receive the force of gravity.”  Immediately I sensed a kind of energy centered around my center of gravity (2 inches below the navel, in the middle of me front to back and side to side) that seemed to tone and to energize my legs and feet.

Then I thought to myself if force and energy are related, why not say instead: “I am free to receive the energy of gravity.”  Pretty much the same results.

I then switched to: “I’m free to receive the the upward force from the ground.” which resulted in an internal expansion particularly noticeable in the upper half of my body.  The same with “I’m free to receive the energy from the ground.”

I played around with alternating between the gravity and the earth support directions and then the obvious hit me: Both the force (and the energy) of gravity and the force (and the energy) of the surface I was on were ultimately generated by the earth – or, really, the Earth!

They were different kinds of forces and they were being applied to my body in different ways, but both were sources of free energy from the planet.(3)  So why not condense the two: “I’m free to receive force (or energy) from the Earth” which produced the beneficial effects of both directions individually applied.

As my walk progressed, I noticed that I was feeling a lot more energetic than I had at the start.  My speed picked up a bit, my footfalls were lighter, my breathing was freer and I had a  sense of overall physical expansion.

I’ve been experimenting with these directions myself and with my students in a wide variety of activities as well as sitting, lying in bed, doing Constructive Rest, and the results have been universally positive.

(Having said that, I do go through a bit of the basic physics with my students first, and they usually say that helps with their understanding. You can quickly learn about this in the blog cited in Footnote 3 below.)

If you’re intrigued, experiment with these directions yourself.  Very likely your results will differ from mine in their details, and they will also probably differ at different times for you.

Let me know what you discover!

(1) If you’re unfamiliar with Alexander Technique directions, and specifically how to use them, I’d suggest listening to at least the first of these BodyLearningCast podcasts: New Directions in Alexander Technique Directing

(2) Technically, Energy equals Force times the distance over which it is applied.  As one physicist puts it, “A force exerted along a way yields energy.”

(3) More on this can be found at my previous blog, Life on Earth – Where Powerful Forces Collide and a series of BodyLearningCast podcasts, Gravity, Support and Freedom – And the Alexander Technique

Image courtesy of chrisroll at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

No Auto-Correct for Habitual Tension – Part 2

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Habitual pain is unlikely to disappear on its own.

In my last post, No Auto-Correct for Habitual Tension – Part 1, I explored the fact that habitual excess tension in our bodies will not resolve itself.  Some sort of intervention is required to release it.

This is quite different from the many self-correcting mechanisms we see all around us.  I mentioned auto-correct on a word processing program, but a much simpler, and older, example is the humble thermostat.  When the temperature gets too hot, it turns off the heat.  When it gets too cold, the heat is turned back on.

Typically that cycle repeats many times a day without us being aware of it.

There are many other, more complicated, systems of self-correction have come into being to help with the complexities of advanced technology.

It might surprise you to know that modern commercial airliners can go from take off, to landing at the destination airport, completely on autopilot, correcting for changing weather, runway conditions etc.  Pilots rarely use it this way, but autopilot is often used for long stretches of flying time.

Looking ahead, Google has suggested that once it’s driver-less car is perfected (test models are already on roads of California), human drivers will be banned.

Auto-correct extends to many functions in our bodies as well such as maintaining body temperature and the proper balance between acidity and alkalinity (pH).

But it does not extend to the neuro-muscular system when that system gets out of balance for an extended period.

Perhaps due to a traumatic event, such as an accident.

Or, more likely, when it’s due to unconscious imitation of people around us, particularly when we’re young.

As F. Matthias Alexander, the developer of the Alexander Technique noted:

…a child imitates its parents or nurses in tricks of manner and speech, yet we do not stop to consider that it will also imitate our carriage of the body, our performance of muscular acts, even our very manner of breathing. This faculty for imitation and adaptation is a wonderful force, and one which we have at our command if only we would pause to consider how we may use it in the right way. The vast majority of wrong habits acquired by children result from their imitation of the imperfect models confronting them. But how many parents attempt to put a right model before their children? How many learn to eradicate their own defects of pose and carriage so that they may be better examples to the child? How many in choosing a nurse will take the trouble to select a girl whom they would like their children to imitate? Very, very few. And the reason is simple. In the first place they do not realize the harmful effect of bad example, and, in the second, the great majority of parents have so little perception of truth in this matter that they are incapable of choosing a girl who is a good specimen of humanity, and are sublimely unconscious of their own crookedness and defects. –  from the chapter “Race Culture and the Training of Children” in Man’s Supreme Inheritance

Elsewhere Alexander notes that the more bizarre the posture or movement pattern they are  exposed to, the more likely it is for young children are to imitate, and eventually adopt, them.

Obviously appropriate education of parents could help matters.  Most parents these days thoroughly vet potential nannies to make sure they aren’t hiring an ax-murderer or a child molester.  But as Alexander observed, they are not likely looking for harmful posture and movement patterns.  Indeed they are usually blissfully unaware of their own distorted physical use of themselves, not to mention the harm it is causing their children.

And so their children may find themselves unconsciously generating excess tension as they go through life.  And, like their parents, they are much more likely to be aware of the results of that tension – poor balance, restricted breathing etc – than the underlying causal patterns.

These patterns can persist generation after generation – unless some sort of useful intervention is brought to bear to encourage conscious awareness and learning practical tools for releasing them.*

I know it sounds like a commercial, but that’s exactly what Alexander figured out how to do for himself – and what lessons in the Alexander Technique can teach you how to do for yourself.

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* It may be the topic of another blog, but the question of just why this kind of intervention is necessary.  In the Old Testament, God repeatedly admonishes the stiff necked people, but doesn’t provide a practical solution.  (See, for example, Was God the first Alexander Technique Teacher?)

And when He hardens Pharaoh’s heart, he seems pretty sure that it won’t “un-harden” any time soon.  One possibility: He created a non self-correcting system precisely so that we would eventually figure out how to do the kind of self-observation and self-directing that would allow us to learn how to change harmful patterns of tension, take responsibility and control of ourselves, and ultimately develop our higher consciousness.

This idea is hinted at in the titles of F. Matthias Alexander’s books.  His first was titled Man’s Supreme Inheritance!  His second was Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, his third The Use of the Self and his fourth The Universal Constant in Living.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Image courtesy of sixninepixels at FreeDigitalPhotos.net