Transform anger and powerlessness into the positive energy of participation

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

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

Ordinarily I don’t share my political views on my professional page. The healing touch of Alexander Technique is for everyone regardless of political affiliations. That said, many of my clients are traumatized, angry and fearful months after the elections. A recent article on PBS’s news hour attests that these anxious emotions are so widespread they’ve been dubbed “Post Election Stress Disorder.”

I have two remedies to suggest. The first is to prioritize self care. Unplug, get out in nature, move your body, cook a nice meal, play music, hug a friend, gaze at the sky. Give yourself permission to rest.  Consciously cultivate gratitude for everything that is not wrong.

Then, once you are recharged chose one small achievable political action that you can take. It will help you to transform anger and powerlessness into the positive energy of participation. There is even positive psychology research to back this up.

If you like to write, write letters to your congresspeople. Their addresses are a simple google search away. If you find making calls expedient, get the free Five Calls App. According to Michael Moore, contacting your representatives matters even if you live in a blue state. If you have more time and energy read the Indivisible Guide and then participate in face-to-face activism.

If you have less time and energy to participate, redirect some of your spending habits and give more money. For example, I quit drinking a daily Kombucha ($4/bottle), and donated my projected savings to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others.

As Obama reminded us, local actions matter, whether it’s formal volunteering, subscribing to a green power plan, or simply being kind to the people around you. Whatever you decide you can do, it will matter. If all of us do something, we have a movement.

But remember, all of this action will best serve the world if it stems from awareness and self care. You will not be effective if you are seething with anger and stumbling from stress. So remember, it’s OK to take some time to breathe and catch up with your life. Let your neck be free and then play your part.

Quick tips for unpacking complicated scientific articles

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is The Active Ingredient

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is The Active Ingredient

Someone commented that the article I referenced in my last blog post looked interesting, but not easy to understand. Here’s the article. Proactive selective inhibition targeted at the neck muscles: this proximal constraint facilitates learning and regulates global control, Loram et al. 2016 Decide for yourself.

The good news is that even if you don’t have a background in statistics or knowledge of specific laboratory procedures, you can read selectively, which will give you a feel for the content of the research, and you can ask questions which will give you a sense of the quality of the study.

(Side note, if this post reads like a primer for an undergraduate course – you are correct – it is).

Start with the Abstract. That may be all you need.

If you want to know a bit more, read the Introduction and Discussion sections. The authors will outline their main research question (hypothesis) and cite supporting background information. At the end of the paper, the authors will explain all the complex mathematical results, elaborate on findings, provide alternate explanations and may even speculate on ways to improve the study/field in the future.

In general, you can skip the Methods and Results sections unless you want to evaluate how good the study actually was. If that’s the case, the first thing to look at is the sub-section labeled “participants”. A rule of thumb is that any conclusions drawn from studies with less than 30 participants in each comparison group can be categorized as preliminary. A large data pool ensures that results are not due to random chance. Often complex power analyses are conducted to assess the adequacy of the sample size, but, as a casual reader, the question, “Is the sample size (n) greater or less than 30?” will get you pretty far.  Ask yourself how the subjects were selected. Random selection is nearly impossible in social science and psychology research. It’s likely that the subjects selected will be from a specific demographic group. This may bias findings. Check also that the subjects were randomly assigned to test conditions and order of tests. Check if there was a control group. It’s amazing how many studies are published that don’t actually have this. In some study designs the same set of subjects serves as their own control.

Continue on through the Methods section looking at the study design and measurement techniques. Was double-blinding used? Again, blinding is difficult in research with humans. If not, think about how this may have affected results. For example, participants will often try to deliver the results they assume the researcher wants  Glance at the Results section and ask yourself how many tests were done. Were the tests based on the initial hypothesis, or did the researchers conduct hundreds of tests in an attempt to fish for patterns? The more tests conducted, the more likely that results are a fluke. Even if all these criteria are met, results are still often unrepeatable. Currently, there’s a crisis in psychological research. Many of the foundational studies don’t bear fruit upon replication. Usually this is ascribed to problems such as regression to the mean (i.e. extreme findings tending to return to average when measurements are repeated), and a publication bias (i.e. failed research doesn’t get published).

It gets easier from here on out. Look at the actual journal that the study was published in. Is it a peer reviewed journal? Was there an editorial board. Look for conflicts of interest. Who funded the study? Who were the researchers? All of this information should be clearly stated.

If, after all of this, you really want to go deep, go back to the Results. Look at all the diagrams, tables and charts. Do the charts depict what they say they are depicting? Can you make sense of the results even without a background in statistics? If you are still feeling hungry, go back to the Methods section. How were the variables measured and manipulated? What kind of data was collected? Were the instruments used to collect the data reliable? Does the data relate to the original questions being asked?

Finally, my favorite part: Comb through the Bibliography. What sources were cited? Sometimes quotes and facts are cherry picked, and if you are really interested, it’s a good idea to try and read the original studies that were used as background sources.

I’m sure you can come up with many questions that I haven’t thought of! Happy digging…



New study shows that reducing neck tension improves coordination


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

An elegant new study by Professor Ian Loram’s group in the UK demonstrates that stopping neck tension improves coordination of the whole body.

Participants used ultrasound biofeedback to monitor activity of neck muscles while playing violin – as well as other less complex tasks. Results showed that when participants reduced activation in the neck they spontaneously changed the movement of their whole body in ways that both increased efficiency and balance. These results support the main thesis of the Alexander Technique: Our necks exert a global controlling influence (for good or ill) on the quality of our movement. Results also showed that conscious monitoring of movement did not impair performance, a finding that conflicts with previous research, but supports F.M. Alexander’s thesis that conscious control of movement is desirable. Read the full study here: Proactive selective inhibition targeted at the neck muscles: this proximal constraint facilitates learning and regulates global control, Loram et al. 2016

Based on these results, try to reduce tension in your neck muscles and see if that improves your movement quality.

But how do you stop tension in the neck muscles without biofeedback?

The short answer is to send a message from your brain to your muscles to let go. I like to imagine that I have a dial labeled “Neck” in my brain that I can turn from high to low. The key is to use your imagination, or really your mind. This finely honed connection between thought and body reaction is something that students learn in Alexander lessons.

The longer answer is to:
(1) Stop whatever it is that you are doing (or thinking) that is causing the tension. Observe how the tension is related to a stimulus. Your tension is caused by the way you react – it is not who you are.
(2) Engage in the activity or thought that causes tension. Observe how you are tensing. A mirror or video camera would be useful. External feedback is necessary because our feelings our often not accurate.
(3) Once you know which parts of yourself might be overworking, you can more easily instruct those parts to calm down.

Calling your local Alexander Teacher might be a the fastest way of figuring this out in the absence of access to ultrasound biofeedback.