Quick body awareness refresher

Distracted? Worried? Bored? Noticing body sensations and adding helpful directions is an easy way to coax yourself into better postural habits and an easy way to come back to the present moment.

From time to time during the day, ask yourself these questions:

What am I doing with my shoulders?

  • Am I scrunching?
  • Can I do a little less?
  • What happens if I imagine my shoulder muscles melting like butter in a pan?
  • What happens if I imagine the collar bones like two arrows pointing apart?

How am I standing on my feet?

  • How does standing change if I pay attention to the soles of my feet?
  • How does my breath change when I consciously relax my feet?
  • Can I sense the distance between my feet and the top of my head?

You might find yourself subtly expanding upward just by noticing the distance between your feet and head.


Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.




Practice tip: improve breathing and relax

Practice a long whispered “Ahhh” sound. The most important part is to relax and wait for the body to breathe in on its own.

On the exhale, think about softening the neck and jaw. Imagine the spine and head lengthening up to the sky on the exhale.

It helps to smile gently with your eyes.

You can practice standing or sitting, but lying on the floor in constructive rest is the easiest.

Practice 3 to 5 whispered “Ahhhs”— or whatever syllable feels good— and then watch your natural breath.

Repeat as many times as you like.


Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.

The Alexander Technique is nothing like that.

Sometimes, I get tempted by all the “flashier” body techniques. Techniques that promise answers, that build muscle, that involve more movement, more overt breathing, more rhythm and sweat and sound. Maybe even ecstasy.

The Alexander Technique is nothing like that. It is quiet, subtle and indirect. It is powerful.

We don’t do.

We only pause and notice our habitual tensions. Once perceived, the habits that choke our freedom can be prevented.

Conscious awareness is a powerful —but ephemeral— tool for transformation.

We learn to un-do. When we do this, we may discover how easy, creative and efficient we, and our, bodies might already be.


Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.

Move Your DNA — Book Review

As a polemic, Katy Bowman’s Move Your DNA rates 5 stars. As a work of popular science and an exercise manual, I have to drop this rating to 2 stars.

As an Alexander Technique Teacher, I can’t help but cheer at Katy’s thesis that the mechanical forces created from our daily hours of sitting, wearing shoes and staring at screens is shaping our bodies. Even an admirable daily exercise habit cannot combat the other 23 hours of our day.  It’s F.M. Alexander’s thesis—”Use affects function,”— reformatted for a modern audience with a scientific, ‘paleo’ twist. After reading Bowman’s book, you may find yourself squatting to go the potty, running barefoot and sleeping on the floor— or at least throwing away your pillows.

She opens with the dramatic example of “Floppy fin syndrome.” The mechanical forces created when a killer whale swims in the ocean at variable depths, speeds, and direction loads the fin tissues in ways that stimulate the fin to stiffen and stay upright. Whales in captivity don’t get these natural mechanical loads and the top fin flops. Every modern convenience from heat, to cars, to your fluffy mattress, protects the body from the mechanical loads necessary for health. Our bodies are the whale’s floppy fin.

Bowman does not shy away from strong analogies like “casting.”  The adaptations our bodies make when we have to wear a cast, such as muscle wasting, stiffening and bone loss occur in response to our environmental “casts” of smooth sidewalks, chairs, and even indoor time. From our eyes to our feet, our tissues conform to the limitations of our daily positions.

Bowman has a firm handle on the reality that our bodies function as a whole and the added benefit of a scientist’s perspective on the effects of force on tissue development.  I’m happy that she points out that the invocation to tighten your tummy to protect your lower-back is hopelessly outdated. The endless regimen of crunches (that occur even in some of my favorite yoga classes) may have limited value and may even damage the spine.

The book is less wonderful as an exercise manual. It’s poorly organized and hard to search. This problem may be worse in the Kindle version, where the index lacks hyperlinks and location references. The illustrative photographs are often pages away from the text instructions. If it was hard for me as a movement specialist to decipher all of her exercises, I’m imagining it would be quite frustrating for a layperson.

Although the book is not intended as a technical study in bio-mechanical sciences, I would have appreciated a little bit more evidence. For example, she devotes a large section to her thesis that Kegel exercises (isolated contractions of the pelvic floor muscles) may cause more harm then good. I completely agree that Kegels do not address the overall use patterns of the pelvis and torso, and ideally, it’s best to let those muscles function automatically. However she does not present evidence that her approach works better. Although something seems intuitively true, it may not be.

There’s no way that such a small book can be comprehensive. Bowman’s attempt is not to get us to adopt a fully paleo lifestyle, but to rethink our current one. By bettering our daily movement habits, we have a better quality of life.

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.