Helping a Dancer with Foot Pain

Blond woman smiling over her shoulder at the camera.Today I helped a dancer with foot pain using Reembody Method. She had pain in the balls of her feet from dancing in heels. The pain was more intense in her left foot, which was her non-dominant (ND) side. As she described her situation, I was forming a picture in my mind about what her steps might look like, and how her ankles and feet moved.

Frequently, dancers are instructed to push the back foot into the floor, almost like the foot is an oar in the ocean. This has the counter-intuitive result of stalling forward momentum, while dispersing unwanted force into the tiny bones in the balls of the feet.

We were working online[i]. I observed her walking. Then she lay on her back with pillows under her knees. She followed my instructions to plantar flex her left ND ankle. Plantar flexion looks like pointing the toes, but the action is isolated to the ankle joint while the toes remain completely relaxed. It can be surprisingly difficult to uncouple these movements.

I could see where she was having problems. To create the pointed shape, she was pushing her forefoot down as though pressing on a gas pedal, with minimal movement in the ankle. The action I was looking for requires sliding the heel bone along the floor towards the body by shortening the Achilles tendon. The Reembody method predicts that people will have a harder time organizing this movement on the non-dominant leg, which seemed to be the case. So, I had her switch legs, and try it on her right dominant leg.

Piece of cake.

Next, she practiced a sequence of upper and lower leg rotations on her right D leg that I thought she would need to improve the launching[ii]capability of her left ND leg. According to the Reembody Method, we tend to stop using our ND leg as an effective launcher, and the bones spiral in directions that make this leg trend towards bending and weak force production. It gets a bit soggy. Over time, the ND side grows dormant, and we end up doing almost all the work of locomotion and support on the D side of the body. You can observe this by watching people walk. Since most people are right legged, watch how people post over the left leg. Observe how the left leg tends to rotate out and doesn’t land under the center of mass.

Then I had her rest. Rest is an important part of learning new skills.

Then I asked her to visualize the movement sequence on her right leg, followed by visualizing the sequence on her left leg, followed by performing the movements on her left leg.

Piece of cake.

The two sides the body learn from each other, due to the chiastic nature of the nervous system – stay tuned, that’s another blog.

Next, she stood up and commented that the left leg felt longer, more stable and easier. I could see that she was allowing it to bear more of her body weight.

Then we translated the actions of the leg on the floor to the way the leg moved during gait. I had her position the left leg behind in the “pushing off phase” (but please don’t push off the foot, remember we don’t have oars). As she drew her heel bone up away from the floor and shortened her Achilles tendon, she allowed her shin, thigh and pelvic bones to spiral as we had practices. “I feel less pressure in the ball of my foot.”

Bingo!

True, she’s got a bit of homework to integrate this new way of moving into dancing in heels, but the beauty of Reembody Method is that newly learned movement sequences are “sticky,” meaning, the body adopts them quickly and unconsciously. This is surprising and different from most training models. Usually repetition, reward and effort are needed to build a new habit. We think, but don’t know for sure, that Reembody works more quickly because the movement sequences provide the central nervous system (CNS) with an immediate feeling of safety, hence we gravitate towards the new movement. It’s only under heightened stress, that we are likely to revert to the old inefficient patterns and will need to again practice the optimal joint rotations.

This is a small example of how the Reembody method can be used to solve pain, and fine-tune our movement for better living, sports performance and artistic expression.

I’m teaching an introductory class at Berkeley Rep starting July 10, where as a bonus you will also learn methods from the Alexander Technique.

Join me!

 

[i]Many Alexander Teachers do teach online but it is still quite controversial in our community. It takes many years of training to get the special quality of directive touch that marks an AT teacher’s hands. That touch is an art from, and many feel that without it, the technique loses its integrity and heart. I remain neutral on the topic, but for now chose to teach Alexander Technique in person, and use an online platform for other forms of mindful movement training.

[ii]Launching is the moment the back foot leaves the ground and springs forward. In the arms, you might think of it as expressing or releasing force, for example the moment an arm explodes forward in a punch or to throw a ball (to be discussed in a future blog).

Half the World is Behind You

Do you find yourself sticking your neck forward and crunching your shoulders in concentration? These are common reading, texting, and speaking habits. Our need to focus to extract meaning, or to see, hear and speak drive us to push our faces forward. The urgency of social communication can undermine our natural capacity for ease. This is a common problem for my actor students who have the challenge of broadcasting emotion to the back row without sacrificing authenticity. Luckily, there is a simple solution that does not involve advanced postural cuing, hands on work from an Alexander Technique teacher, or expensive equipment. You can try it right now.

Expand your awareness to include the space behind you. Sometimes it’s helpful to actually turn around and look behind you, and then turn back and imagine you are seeing out through the back of your head, or the skin of your back. This requires a little imagination. Do you recall that feeling of knowing someone is looking at you even though they are behind you? How do we know? I don’t have the answer to this, but we can make use of our ability to extend perception to balance our use. “Use” is F.M. Alexander’s term for the way we habitually organize our movement in response to all the stimuli of life. What does it feel like to extend your awareness backwards?

Then, if you are an actor, take out some text, or a script you are learning. If your are not an actor, your phone is probably your biggest stimulus to focus forward and contract your attention. Do you feel an immediate impulse to push your neck forward? Are you holding your breath? Again, expand your attention to the space behind you. Rest a bit, and try your task again. Toggle between expanding awareness backwards, and focusing attention forward. Only practice 2-minutes, and then let it go. Otherwise, you won’t be able to get anything done. Directing attention takes a lot of cognitive resources at first! See if this short amount of practice leaves you with the spontaneous ability to broaden your awareness and breathe throughout the day.

It’s pleasant to practice expanding your field of attention outdoors while walking or exercising. It’s challenging but good to practice expanding awareness back during a conversation with someone. The heat of communicating, the need to be heard, liked, or to make your point, is often the biggest stimulus to push your head forward.

I learned this exercise from my teacher Frank Ottiwell. I had the privilege of assisting Frank’s Alexander Technique Classes for actors at American Conservatory Theater (where I still teach) for several years.  As you know, actor’s frequently stick their necks out in the urgency of communication. I’m sure you’ve seen this on stage. Two actors argue, and if you turned off the sound you would witness the argument progress as chins compete in forward motion. Frank would quip, “Half the world is behind you.” With this simple reminder the actors would find a way to speak while staying centered and free.

Alexander Technique Class at Berkeley Rep – Starting Feb 13, 2018

 

Alexander Technique for Mind Body Balance
5-week workshop ~ February 2018
TUE 7–9:30PM · 2/13, 2/20, 2/28, 3/10, 3/17 · $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 actors and non actors alike!

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 ·

Free to act, Free to Be, Free to take the ‘road not taken’ – Workshop 5/14 ~ Berkeley

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

Notice the moment before you engage in action (or speech). See if you can sense how your body prepares. What are the habitual gripping spots?

Then pause. In the pause, tell yourself that you are:

  1. Free to act,
  2. Free to just be,
  3. Or free to do something different.

 

Observe how you (whole self, body and mind unified), reorganize when there is no pressure.

Then make a fresh decision.

The pause is enhanced when you expand awareness to include both self and environment together.

There’s more specific body cuing in the Alexander Technique, but the mindfulness piece, the pause to stop habitual reaction, is what distinguishes the technique.

To learn more about this process, join me for an introduction to the Alexander Technique at Berkeley Rep this Sunday 5/14, 10 – 1pm $35. Bring your mom for Mother’s day!

We all live in a body. It pays to be aware of this.

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

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

Reading the first round of student homework from the University Somatics Course I am co-teaching, was a great example of the multiple positive results from simply being aware of living in a body.

Students chose to practice a body scan meditation, a walking meditation, or a Feldenkrais exercise five days in a row. After a week, student comments included feeling as if they had given their whole body a massage with the mind, noticing less joint cracking while walking, walking taller and lighter, becoming aware of a habit of walking with the head down (smart phone), becoming aware of how many sounds they unconsciously blocked out, linking pain to body use or emotions, gaining some control over mind wandering, feeling more in touch with nature if they practiced outside, feeling an increase in heat and blood flow to injured body areas, and feeling grateful for the opportunity to get in touch with their bodies on a daily basis. It’s worth noting that not every practice session ran smoothly, but they did practice every day — or so they reported ;).

Also a good reminder to me not to complicate experience with theory. There’s so much to light up the mind – from neuroscience to the latest theories of trauma, from a century of Western somatics to 5,00 years of Eastern practices – but the most important element, regardless of modality, is awareness.

The key ingredients seem to be setting aside time to be aware, and then reflecting.

 

3 Upcoming Alexander Technique Classes

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is The Active Ingredient

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is The Active Ingredient

HH 450 Somatic Education & Holistic Health
with Elyse Shafarman & Cliff Smyth
Thursdays 4:10–6:55 pm · 1/23 – 5/18
Gymnasium 114
San Francisco State University
1900 Holloway Ave, San Francisco, CA 94132
Info: ihhs@sfsu.edu

Survey of somatic traditions such as Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, Aikido, Biogenetics, Hakomi, Reflexology, Rolfing, Trager and yoga therapy. History, philosophy, and sensory awareness methods of Somatics, from a self-care education approach.


Alexander Technique for Mind Body Balance
with Elyse Shafarman
Wednesdays 7–9pm · 2/15 – 3/15 · $150
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 ·


Free your Voice & Free your Neck
with Elyse Shafarman
Sunday 1–2pm · 2/1915 · $35 earlybird by Feb 18 or $40 drop-in
Giggling Lotus Yoga
2325 3rd Street, Studio 318
San Francisco CA 94701
415-934-9700
hello@gigglinglotus.com

Discover how the Alexander Technique can free your voice and take your asana practice from effort to ease. Alexander Technique, sometimes called “the actors’ secret” is a time-honored method for developing vocal power and physical poise.

Together we will:

Identify psychological triggers and accompanying tension reactions
Learn anatomical keys for vocal support
Practice a reliable method for transforming tension habits
Open the throat, use the bones as resonators and breathe
Experience instant relief from Alexander Technique hands-on guidance

This workshop is appropriate for yoga teachers and anyone wishing to develop presence, ease and power as a communicator


Watch for upcoming classes:

  • Yoga and Alexander Technique (currently offering private sessions)
  • The Singing Body – Embodied Voice and Alexander Technique with Francesca Genco

 

The Singing Body

Want to sing with more freedom?
Move with less effort?
Join us for

The Singing Body
a workshop series in
Embodied Voice & the Alexander Technique
with Francesca Genco & Elyse Shafarman
Sundays, 10am-1pm
November 6, December 4 & January 15
Jeffery Bihr Studio in Rockridge (a few minutes’ walk from BART)

 
  • Learn to support your voice from a place of ease, power & relaxation.
  • Enjoy skilled hands-on guidance.
  • Learn songs & how to sing them from an embodied state.
  • Discover how the Alexander Technique engages choice over habit.
Topics will include:
November 6 ~ Respiratory diaphragm & breathing
December 4 ~ Organs as resonators & supporters
January 15 ~ Muscles of the pelvis, abdomen & vocal folds
Click on the image to hear Francesca practicing the principles in recording her latest voice library, Autumn Lullaby.
Cost is $75 for single workshop, $200 for the series (save $25).
PRE-REGISTRATION REQUIRED. Respond to this email to register.
Feel free to share this invite with a friend!
Francesca Genco, MA is a singer and sound healer, yoga instructor, bodyworker and interdisciplinary arts teacher. Her singing was featured in Ryan Amon’s score for Elysium, Neill Blomkamp’s science fiction film starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster released in August 2013. She is the founder of Song of the Body, which offers classes, workshops and retreats in embodied voice, sound healing, yoga and creative expression. Her classes and private sessions are based in creating an intimate relationship with the body as we learn to listen and respond to its natural intelligence and resonance.
Elyse Shafarman holds a Master’s Degree in Physiological Psychology and Alexander Technique Teacher Certification from Frank Ottiwell (2003). Elyse is on the faculty of American Conservatory Theater’s MFA program and Berkeley Rep School of Theatre. She maintains a private practice in San Francisco and Berkeley. Her background as a modern dancer and professional training in psychology, yoga, and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction influence her work.

New Alexander Technique Class Starting Feb 2015

Alexander Technique for Mind/Body Balance
Tues 7–9pm · 2/2 – 3/8 · $175
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


Do I need to be an actor to take workshops at Berkeley Rep?

These classes will benefit all who wishes to discover alert, relaxed alignment and refined body awareness and control.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions: elyse@bodyproject.us

Eyes up!

 

Eyes up!

photo on the right by Lindsay Newitter

Dear Friends,

Happy Autumn! Having just returned from the International Congress of Alexander Technique in Ireland, I am newly inspired. In light of this, you are invited to two Fall Workshops. Each can be taken on its own, or paired together.

Stand Tall & Speak with Presence
Saturday, October 3, 1–4pm · 10/3 · $45
Berkeley Rep School of Theatre

Eyes Up! Prevent “Text Neck” & Restore Spinal Length
Saturday, October 10,  1–4pm · 10/10 · $45
Berkeley Rep School of Theatre

Visit Berkeley Rep School of Theatre website to register. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions. Please share with anyone you think will benefit!

Let your neck be free and lift your eyes to see the world!