Pillow Talk

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

Re: “I enjoyed reading your website and was wondering if you have any specific pillow recommendations for side and back sleeping?” Yes, I do, although my suggestion is on the, “It depends…” side, remembering that the Alexander Technique does not advocate perfect positions, it advocates helpful “Directions” to coordinate our movement.

There are a lot of schools of thought about sleeping positions, some erring on the side of really heavy propping, and others on the side of no propping, (e.g. Your Pillow is an Orthotic). As a rule of thumb, for side sleeping, if you are a pillow user, generally a large firm stack of pillows to build up the distance between your ear and shoulder is comfortable. Your head may be surprisingly high. There’s no virtue in less pillows (unless, less is more comfortable). For back sleeping, try a small firm pillow propped under the head & upper shoulders, and maybe a pillow under the knees. I also recommend sleeping half on your belly, half on your side with one knee bent, in “1/2 frog” with no pillows (illustration pending). I’ve seen some research that side sleeping is better for the brain and may even reduce risk of Alzheimer’s. So if side sleeping is comfortable for you, there’s no reason to try back sleeping. My personal preference is less propping/no pillows. My belief is that this encourages movement during the night so that I don’t feel stiff when I wake up. However, everyone is so different, what’s comfortable for me may not be the best practice for you.

Also, the state of your mind before sleep has a lot to do with how comfortably you sleep. Thinking through your Alexander Technique Directions in bed can be a good way of easing into restful slumber – pillow or no pillow. The directions are, “Allow my neck to be free, to allow my head to release forward and up, to allow my back to lengthen and widen.” I also recommend trying a  body scan meditation before bed.

As soon as I get done grading papers and have some time, I’ll flesh out this blog with illustrations to better answer your questions.

This is the sort of question that is best dealt with in person. If you’d like to come in for a lesson (assuming you are in the Bay Area), contact me. You can also look through the American Society of Alexander Technique Teacher’s directory to find a teacher near you.

ZZzzzzzzzzzzzzz! Sweet Dreams!

Motor Imagery, Direction & Being

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

Interesting day teaching playing with the difference between direction as motor imagery (i.e. imaging yourself riding a bike) versus visual imagery (imaging a tree). Re-reading the very pop science, “The Body has a Mind of its Own,” and was reminded that it’s only motor imagery that seems to modify the brain’s body schema. It’s motor imagery that is the key to all those famous leaps in performance due to imaging plus practice, or even imaging alone. I don’t know how Ideokinesis fits (i.e. imagining an abstract image in motion, like an arrow moving out of your left shoulder to widen it). Does an image that is not ones body, but still an image in motion, remodel the brain’s map of “self”? Today it definitely seemed that motor imagery worked the best.

I got quite far off into that tangent when my last student of the day reminded me of the current of aliveness, below, or is it beyond, structure, trauma, injury, illness, imbalance, ego, language and body, and the healing that comes from tapping into that wordless, wild pulse of life.  Methods melt and fall apart next to that kind of profound contact, and yet, having the sort of brain that I do, I mostly spend (or waste?) my time trying to figure out how to make things work better. I don’t tend to trust that just tapping into pure being is enough to solve the type of movement issues that I or my students have, even though I’ve certainly had plenty of that type of experience as a student myself.

My teacher Frank Ottiwell talked about being with the student as they were and also seeing the potential of where they might go. This was in answer to our incessant trainee questioning: “Frank, Frank! Frank??? What are you thinking when you put hands on us?” Why was his touch so exquisite? Perhaps he simultaneously tapped into being and projected motor imagery. Is that the answer? At the end of his life he talked about the importance of doing less. There’s something to be said for no directional projection, just being.

Endless experimentation. Barking up the wrong – or the right tree – or both at the same time.