relax your face, elevate your mood


Allow my forehead to smooth down towards my brows
Allow my temples to relax and widen
Allow my eyes to soften and float
Allow my cheek bones to widen
Allow my nose to relax
Allow my inner ears to soften inward
Allow my lips to be easy
Allow my tongue to be easy
Allow my teeth and gums to relax
Allow my jaw to float (mentally see the jaw as a limb, distinct from the head, and imagine you have taken yours off)
Imagine a smile

These phrases help release facial tension. Sometimes, I just say to myself,

Forehead,
Eyes
Cheekbones
Lips
Tongue
Jaw
Neck
All of me

If you like, you might try recording this for yourself and listening to it from time to time. If you do tape it, pause a bit between each line so you have a chance to think about what each line means. Send the messages for peace and ease, but don’t feel you need to make anything happen. In Alexander Technique lessons you learn how to hone the mind body connection, but anyone can get a start by the simple and powerful act of thinking into the body.

We know from studies of psychophysiology that tension in the face is correlated with mental/emotional stress, and a relaxed face correlates with a state of ease and happiness. In fact, there’s even evidence that there is a causal relationship between putting on a smile and a boost in mood. I’m certainly not suggesting that you fake your way through the holiday season (there’s also evidence that repressing emotions may result in lowered memory retention), but I offer these phrases as a way to systematically gain more control over chronic facial tension.

Happy Holidays!

Body Project Blog ~ Where thought is the active ingredient, by Elyse Shafarman

 

Rise Up

Compressing yourself in sympathy for the pain in the world does not help anyone. While ebullience might be socially inappropriate, a public show of sympathetic tension only saps your own energy. You are needed, to compassionately hold presence and act. This takes immense resources.

Yes, empathetic physical tension may be innate. We do feel others pain in our own body. We wince and flinch in response to onscreen punches. We cry when we hear about Michael Brown, Puerto Rico, Vegas, Napa and on. We practitioners feel our student’s sore knees and aching shoulders, but how much we continue to take on our own shoulders is a choice.

I’m feeling quite hopeless about the world but this does not mean that I am collapsing.

Thoughts about the Alexander technique. Thoughts about social and environmental justice. Thoughts about the meaning of compassion.

 

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Body Project Blog ~ Where thought is the active ingredient, by Elyse Shafarman

quick reflection on the concept of “holism”

The Fragile SpeciesHolism is a fundamental construct of the Alexander Technique, but the word is cheapened by new age nostrums and advertising. Who among us does not feel Whole, and maybe even Holy after a trip to Whole Foods to buy ourselves the most Earthy, *Truthy,* Healthy (not to mention Pricey) items? Whole is a term that has lost it’s integrity. Lewis Thomas writes, “The word “holistic” was invented in the 1920’s by General Jan Smuts [who ever he/she may be] to provide shorthand for the almost self-evident truth that any living organism, and perhaps any collection of organisms, is something more than the sum of its’ working parts.” He goes on to say, “The word is becoming trendy, a buzzword, almost lost to science. What is called holistic thought these days strikes me as more like the transition from a mind like a steel trap to a mind like steel wool.” And yet, given all that, the mind, the body, the complete self is inherently “whole” and deserves a scientific framing – it is possible to study systems. You might free your shoulder, or free your mind, but you are always looking at how that effects the network of being.

–The Fragile Self, Lewis Thomas, pp 72-73.

Body Project Blog ~ Where thought is the active ingredient

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Let your mind expand

One of the things that distinguishes Alexander Technique from posture training is that we look at coordination as a function (or expression) of attention. If our awareness is narrowed we tend to constrict our breathing and our bodies. If our awareness is broad we tend to open up. Expanding our field of attention may not be a complete solution for postural ease, but it’s an easy first step.

The next time you feel tense make this little plan: “If I feel tense, I will expand my awareness to the world around me.”

Let me know how it goes!

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Body Project Blog ~ Where thought is the active ingredient, by Elyse Shafarman

Response to NYT article “Alternatives to Drugs for Treating Pain”, by Jane Brody

Body Project Blog ~
Where Thought is the Active Ingredient

Regarding the Sept 11, 2017 NYT Well article: Alternatives to Drugs for Treating Pain

I applaud Jane Brody for presenting a great list of non invasive treatments for back pain – missing from this list is the Alexander Technique, one of the few methods that has been subjected to a large  (n = 579) randomized controlled trial. Alexander Technique was effective for mitigating low back pain, both after treatment and at a 1-year follow up, as compared to both massage therapy and a no treatment educational control condition, See: Randomised controlled trial of Alexander technique lessons, exercise, and massage (ATEAM) for chronic and recurrent back pain for details. More recently Alexander Technique has been shown to lower neck pain, and mitigate pain in knee osteoarthritis possibly due to improved gait mechanics, although admittedly the latter study has a small sample size, limiting the reliability of results.

Alexander Technique, in my opinion, is a superior intervention because it teaches mindful awareness AND a way of moving that is arguably far more efficient, that will prevent and heal the wear and tear on your body from poor movement habits, and encourage you to move more, because the act of moving has suddenly become pleasurable. To the extent that pain and muscle tension is caused by moving in an inefficient manner, Alexander Technique provides a solution. To the extent that pain and muscle tension results from mental stress, Alexander Technique also provides a solution.

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Helping people help each other

Ok, that was cool.

I just taught a couple the most simple ways that they could put non-doing hands on each other, to help ease back pain and stress during an upcoming trip overseas. My client has been healing a pretty serious back injury and was very nervous about the stress of travel, so we discussed ways her partner might help her.

On the one hand, Alexander Technique Teachers train for many years to have a special quality of directed touch that communicates coordination and ease. On the other hand, we all intuitively know how to put hands on in a gentle, calm, nourishing way. Adding the non-invasive quality of non-doing creates a little refreshing breeze that can exist in the charged space between two bodies. Non-doing touch is a little bit of equanimity. I am only responsible for my journey, even though, right now, I am here with you. You are only responsible for your journey and choices, even though right now, you are here with me. And all the space between us, and around us, and so on

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is the Active Ingredien

.

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Alexander Technique Class at Berkeley Rep Starting Sept 19

Dear friends,

Join me for my next Alexander Technique class starting at Berkeley Rep, Sept 19th.  This class will hone your conscious awareness inside your body and up-level your presence and ease. You will find these skills helpful in high stakes performance and daily life. I’m also integrating some cutting edge material from the Reembody Method that will help you even out the imbalance between your left and right sides, improve your walking gait and perhaps solve previously unsolvable issues such as nagging pain in your dominant hip. Join me for fun explorations as we dive into the mind-body connection.

Alexander Technique for Mind Body Balance
5-week workshop
TUE 7–9:30PM · 9/19, 9/26, 10/3, 10/10, 10/17 · $185

Berkeley Rep School of Theatre
2025 Addison St, Berkeley CA 94704
Register Online, or email the registrar: school@berkeleyrep.org

Alexander Technique is a time-honored method used by actors to improve posture, breath, and movement. Effective movement liberates your acting skills and enriches your life. As you stop responding to the world in a habitual manner, new avenues of physical ease and creativity open up. Discover the Alexander Technique for body-mind balance. Let your body’s physical genius emerge! Open to all levels ·

Book Review – Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart by James Doty

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is the Active Ingredient, by Elyse Shafarman

Just finished reading “Into the Magic Shop – A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart” by James Doty, founder of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research. The book is a beautiful parable about overcoming adversity and the power of ancient meditation techniques to relax the body, tame the mind, open the heart and clarify intent. As cutting edge research is showing, these meditation practices enhance psychological and physical health (I’ll skip the science here, but it’s fascinating), and may give you the energy and inspiration to work for a better world.

Jame’s Doty’s “magic” is of course based in the Buddhist Tradition of Loving Kindness (Metta). I have a few blog posts (below) about the myriad ways that Metta is helpful when learning the Alexander Technique.

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A reliable reference for the body moving in space

Took my first Ballet class in 25 years (with the encouragement of my friend David Cho). From the deep unconscious, I obeyed the piano and Piqué’d, Frappéd, and Dégagé’d en Cloche…steps I haven’t practiced in decades. If I paused to give it a moment’s thought, the choreography fell apart. But if I listened to the music and remembered to breathe, flow.

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is the Active Ingredient, by Elyse Shafarman

 

I felt grateful for all those years I studied with Beth Hoge as a teenager in Oakland, and later with Ernesta Corvino at SUNY Purchase. Their classes, rooted in the Cecchetti method and deepened by Alfredo Corvino (Beth’s mentor and Ernesta’s father), prioritized precision and timing over extremes of range. Under their careful tutelage, even a short-legged modern-dancer, with what was then, an unfashionably-pronounced booty, could learn what Ballet offers: a reliable reference for the body moving in space. And so, years after, the head knows to be over the foot in Pirouettes, the fingers and toes finish together in Développé, and the body automatically aligns with the invisible diagonals of the room…Croisé Devant, Effacé à la Seconde.

I’m sure I’ll be very sore tomorrow, but I may go back. It felt relaxing to do something where I’d already put in the hard time trying to achieve. Not to imply that I have, in any way, figured Ballet out, but only to say that I no longer have any skin in the game. It doesn’t matter if I’m good or not. The dirty secret is that it never mattered. All that’s left is to have fun.

And, in case you are not a former aspirant ballerina or danseur noble, if you have no interest in sewing ribbons on toe shoes, or brandishing princely hand waves, you can still achieve a reliable reference for moving your body in space by studying the Alexander Technique.

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Stiff Lower back?

Tight Jaw? Tension between your shoulder blades? Landing heavily on your heels when walking?

Make sure your rib cage is not lifted up! The cue I use in Alexander Technique lesson is to drop the xiphoid process, which is the little bony point at the end of the sternum. If you look at the image to the left, the xiphoid process is highlighted in gold. You can imagine it like a pendant hanging straight down, or joke with yourself that it’s rude to point your xiphoid process at someone.

If the xiphoid process is sticking out, it will cause you to lean back. If it is dropped towards the ground, you will find your weight centered on your feet, and that your arms and shoulders are freer to swing when walking.

If the xiphoid process is sticking out, it will prevent you from exhaling fully, and of course, inhaling fully. Observe how letting the xiphoid process hang affects your breathing. It’s a very tender spot in the body. It lives in front of the heart, lungs and diaphragm. You might even experiment with feeling a bit like you are burying it inside your body on the exhale.

Even though you feel more relaxed, you might suddenly start to worry that you are slumping! Go ahead, lift your xiphoid process back up to see what your habit of good posture is.  Does this feel super stiff and tense? Go back and forth until you can feel the difference between your idea of good posture and the reality of efficient body mechanics.  If the head drops when you drop your xiphoid process, that’s just information that you’ve been lifting your chest to keep your head up. Trying floating your eyes up, and moving your head from the atlanto occipital joint.

In lessons, I work with my students to understand how correcting a local “part” of the body affects the whole to create better posture, balance and breath.

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is the Active Ingredient, by Elyse Shafarman