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