Metta Meditation & Alexander Technique

As an Alexander Technique student, learning the Buddhist practice of Metta (Loving kindness) Meditation, gave me, for the first time ever, enough self-compassion to look at my habits without shame. When I learned to watch my thoughts in Buddhist Vipassana (Insight) meditation, I gained an understanding of what it might mean to “allow.” Meditation gave me the skill to work with my thoughts and emotions. Alexander Technique helps me explore the embodiment of thought.

I believe that practicing Metta meditation can help you free your neck and expand your body –  in addition to expanding your capacity for compassion.

Here’s the Metta practice:

May I be safe and protected from inner and outer harm
May I be peaceful and happy
May I be healthy and strong
May I be at ease with the conditions of my life

Traditionally you direct these thoughts to yourself, then a mentor or benefactor, then a dear friend, then a neutral person, then a difficult person, and then the circle can be expanded out to all beings everywhere.

Metta creates the inner climate that allows the neck muscles to release – although please note this is my idea, and has nothing to do with traditional Alexander Technique teachings.

The Metta phrases and the Alexander Technique directions can reinforce each other when thought one after the other. For example:

Metta (M): May I be safe and protected from inner and outer harm
Alexander Technique (AT): Allow my neck to be free

Isn’t neck tension the first thing that happens when we feel threatened? A free neck is almost synonymous with safety.

(M): May I be peaceful and happy
(AT): Allow my head to balance forward and up

Isn’t a poised head the physical expression of peace? I’m imagining a Buddha statue.

(M): May I be healthy and strong
(AT): Allow my back to lengthen and widen

Isn’t an open back that allows the free movement of breath and the decompression of organ systems the expression of “health?”

(M): May I be at ease with the conditions in my life
(AT): Allow my legs to release away from my hip joints, and my shoulders to expand to the sides

Isn’t physical expansion the gesture of ease?

You don’t need to say all the words in the Metta phrases. You can generate the feeling of Metta and project the Alexander Technique directions simultaneously. I encourage you to experiment.

There’s a bi-directional loop between body positions and emotions. We can create the feeling tone of safety, peace, health and ease, from the mind down and from the body up.





hone the mind body connection and discover the power of thought

Recently, someone asked me to come up with a few, “one-liners” that describe my work as an Alexander Technique Teacher.

Here’s the one that is true for me, and connects to my passion in the work:

“I help people hone the mind body connection and discover the power of thought to instantly free the body.”

However, if I’m lazy, I’ll say:

“I’m a movement coach for actors.”

Or, if I’m feeling really lazy, I say:

“I help people learn how to relax their necks.”

The latter two usually start a conversation.  Most people are secretly interested in the lives of actors, and almost everyone has neck tension!

I don’t worry about being too accurate. If we have a real conversation, I might go on to talk a bit about habit and choice, and try and tie these concepts in to who they are and what they do. For example, if I’m talking to a tango dancer who works as a computer programmer, I might discuss what it’s like to carry the habits of sitting crouched at a computer into a tango embrace. I might show them how I can help them out.

Often people will say to me, “You have such good posture, are you a Pilates teacher?”

That also gets a discussion going.

Albee’s The Zoo Story and Dharma Ocean

After work in Berkeley, I went for walk in the hills and listened to Reggie Ray’s Dharma Talk, “A Knock On The Door,” which is pretty awesome in and of itself, but even more so when I realized that Edward Albee’s play, The Zoo Story, which I saw yesterday at A.C.T.’s Sky Festival, is a perfect illustration of Reggie Ray’s perspective on Buddhism.

According to Dr. Ray, the reason for practicing Buddhism is to help people – which is accomplished in three totally simple but totally impossible steps.

Step one
Ray: We meditate to empty our minds of clutter.
Albee: In The Zoo Story, Peter sits on a bench in Central Park every weekend to get peace and quiet away from his wife, two daughters, two parakeets and bland middle class existence

Step 2
Ray: Once we are sufficiently empty, we attract suffering people.
Albee: Peter attracts the derelict Jerry.
Ray: Because we are ready, we respond to “the knock on our door” from the suffering people. Without question, we answer it and our compassion is expressed simply as having the space to let them in.
Albee: Peter, for whatever reason (boredom, curiosity, repressed homosexuality) responds to Jerry’s aggressive bids to engage. Peter has the “space” to let Jerry in.

Step 3
Ray: Because we are alert, we let the suffering people change us, even as our compassion transforms them. We do not require the experience to conform to our view of reality.
Albee: Jerry, in every way, shakes Peter out of his comfort/conformity zone. Peter is in a terrible state, but is perhaps truly awake to life for the first time. And Peter ends up granting Jerry’s wish, by “releasing” him from the suffering in his life.

Ok, enough of that. Reggie Ray is Buddhist Crack in my opinion.

Spotted – Actor Lupita Nyong’o trained in Alexander Technique

What’s the mark of an actor trained in the Alexander Technique?

Onstage, you don’t see the Alexander Technique.  What you do see is a fully and effortlessly realized character. Actors who learn the Alexander Technique learn how to prevent their personal habits of speech and movement from leaking into their characters.

But offstage, you might notice a marked grace.

Lupita’s Nyong’o’s elegant posture and personal poise are readily apparent to anyone who views her on and off screen. As noted in a recent NY Times article, Ms. Nyoung’o credits her ease to her training at Yale, which included the Alexander Technique:

“After she was nominated for a Golden Globe, the Yale professor who taught her the movement skills of the Alexander Technique emailed. “She was like, ‘Your use in the film was great, and you’ve come a long way, ’ ” Ms. Nyong’o recounted. “And those things mean so much to me because those people have been so instrumental to me as an actor.”

The Alexander Technique helps actors ground and center themselves:

“Now, I feel more comfortable in my own skin, and I think that’s very helpful when you’re in these out-of-body experiences,” she said. “I can remember to look for gravity and just remember that gravity is my friend” — she laughed — “when nothing else is.”

Quotes retrieved Jan 23, 2014:


Spotted – Actors with Alexander Technique Training in OITNB

Spotted – Episode 8 – Orange is the New Black, the amazing Danielle Brooks (aka Taystee Jefferson) and her side kick Samira Wiley (aka Poussey) do not pull their heads back when they stand up. The classic tell that they’ve had Alexander Technique lessons.

I knew it! But, how else would I know?

Actors with Alexander Technique training are usually marked by an invisible/visible quality of ease. They move naturally. The voice is not strained. They have the flexibility to portray characters that do not match their physical type. Like Danielle Brooks, artistic expression flows easily – fresh, fluent and deep.

Google confirms that Danielle and Samira are graduates of Julliard, where acting students get four full years of Alexander Technique.