Redirect the holding into movement.

A friend commented, “Interesting technique! I feel I’m holding between my shoulder blades. Suggestions for release?”

Perhaps you are holding your shoulder blades together and leaning back to counteract slumping? You could reverse all those arrows pointing in towards the space between your shoulder blades. This might look like letting your chest soften down as your arms swing forward as if embracing a giant redwood (I’m a tree huggers at heart). Or maybe feel the back expand as the shoulder blades glide down the slope of the ribs, letting the shoulder movement cascade the elbows into a gesture? Perhaps, when you stop leaning backwards you will stagger forward in a step, or even a lunge to a leap? Perhaps letting go of the pinching will cause an unraveling and lengthening motion in the arms with a rush of blood into the hands? I’m not sure. It’s play time.

The concept is that holding anywhere in the body is too much energy going in one direction. To release, let the direction of holding reverse and see what happens.

Often we can’t articulate where and how we feel the holding. Luckily our hands are often much smarter than our minds. Try and describe what you feel with a gesture. Perhaps your fist crumples into a tight ball describing the pain between your shoulder blades. Let your fist unwind. Now imagine that unwinding happening in between your shoulders.

Redirect the holding into movement.

 

Laser point your way to length

In the Alexander Technique, we teach students how to find the easiest, most comfortable and most efficient way of balancing the head on the neck. This is by no means all we teach. In actuality, we teach freedom of choice and freedom from the prison of the habitual, but often, our habits are expressed in our carriage – most poignantly in the poise of our heads.

People often push the neck forward and the head down while working at the computer, texting, sitting and all the rest of life. If this is a habit, it can be hard to know where our head belongs.

Last Fall, I was working with a local college professor. I was searching for imagery that they* could easily understand. I suggested that they pretend they had a laser pointer on the top of their head. This allowed them to sense where the head was in space.

You can add imaginary laser pointers to the end of any limb to improve your body awareness and create sensations of length and expansion in your limbs.

What happens when you imagine laser pointers on your shoulders?

When you walk, what happens if you point up from the top of the head?

Final tip, this is all visual imagery. If you try and hold your self into a position you will get tense. See what happens when you let your imagination be the agent of change.

 

*I chose to use gender neutral pronouns for this blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loosen your cape strings

Visualize your collar bones widening

Imagine that your collarbones are the strings of a cape.

Imagine that your shoulder blades, back and arms are the cape.

Loosen your cape strings.

Enjoy letting your collarbones widen, as your shoulder blades relax, draping down the back.

 

Visualize your shoulder blades draping down your back

Photo by Ilie Micut-Istrate on Unsplash

Pelvic Float

Let your pelvis float and roll around the round femur heads.

By Henry Vandyke Carter - Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body (See "Book" section below)Bartleby.com: Gray's Anatomy, Plate 237, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=792151

By Henry Vandyke Carter – Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body

How many angles of rotation are possible between the two sides?

Which quadrants feel free and loose, and which feel blocked?

This movement might feel like a tilting ship in a storm.

Or a sexy dance move.

Or something much smaller and subtler that will free you up for walking, standing and sitting.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Why does 3-D breathing help back pain?

“For some reason, my lower back was giving me hell, and then I remembered the 3-D technique. I did that for a few minutes, and it’s really amazing how quickly it relieved my back pain.”

If your back pain is due to poor posture, freeing up the breath will automatically support better postural coordination in the torso. Breathing is a movement akin to an internal massage. Observing and expanding your breath will help the muscles of your belly, back, and chest loosen. Your spine will have room to expand.

If your back pain is due to ischemia, which is a lack of blood flow, deeper breathing will support the autonomic responses that increase blood flow to tissues.

If your back pain is caused by psychological or emotional triggers, slower, deeper breathing will circumvent stress reactivity, and help you get off the stress/pain feedback loop. By regulating the breath, you automatically regulate the physiological aspects of stress. Your heart rate will slow. Your blood pressure will drop.  The flow of adrenaline will dial down, and within moments or minutes, the agitated mind catches on to the calmer physiology.

Although this video is in French, the images need no translation. It’s easy to see how breathing is a 3D body experience.

 

 

 

 

Jaw & Hip Connection

For years I’ve been telling students that tension in the jaw is connected to tension in the pelvis and hip joints. But where did this idea come from?

I always assumed Moshe Feldenkrais made the original observation, but I’ve never been able to find a reference. And, when I looked several years ago, all I came up with was a reference to natural childbirth expert Ina May Gaskin’s, “Sphincter law,” which states that, “If the mouth, jaw and throat are relaxed, then so is your bottom.” This might have more to do with symptoms of a generalized relaxation response, then literal “sphincters.”

Nevertheless, good to know.

A link between the jaw and pelvis makes sense if we view hypothalamic drive states as the underlying model for unconscious tension habits. That is, the 5 F’s – Fight, Flight, Fright, Freeze and Reproduction – with all their attendant muscular, neural, hormonal and mental activation. Tension (or relaxation) is rarely regional (although we can also blame furniture, culture and our iPhones).

A 2009 study conducted in Germany showed that myofascial release of the TMJ joint significantly increased range of motion in the hip joints. This was true for participants both with and without chronic pain. Additionally, voluntarily clenching the jaw reduced hip joint mobility for all subjects. Caveat: these findings might only describe a generalized relaxation response, not a direct link between the jaw and the hips. Perhaps if the researchers had asked the participants to clench their fists they would have discovered the same decrease in hip mobility.

Have you ever tried to open a jar without tightening your jaw or fists? Try it. How about your hips? This suggests a little home Alexander Technique project.

From an Alexander Technique standpoint, a free neck, a free jaw, and free hips all go together. It’s hard to release the jaw in isolation.

If you have trouble with jaw tension, try relaxing your feet, and then your legs. See if your breath doesn’t then drop into your pelvis, which then relaxes your hips.

How’s your jaw doing now?

Can you flesh (ha!) this out for us a little bit?

A yoga friend asked me to comment on the, “Alexander Technique approach to finding length and lengthening by paying not so much attention to the muscles, but to the bones and the spaces between the bones.”

I suppose the simplest way to think about lengthening is to consider that the action of muscles is to pull on bones. If you make a tight fist, and then release the tension, but keep the fist shape, you will notice that the bones of your hand float away from your wrist and the hand expands. You get length with a release of muscular action. So by releasing “wrong” tension, you get muscles at their greatest resting length, and you get joint space.

It’s very hard for the brain to control specific muscles. If you’re tensing the quads to release the hamstrings, chances are you will be tensing a lot of other things that you don’t want to tense (like your groins, jaw and neck). Try it.

If you work with directional imagery, say the hamstring rolling out like a red carpet away from the sitz bone and out the heel into the infinity of space, chances are you will get an even and effortless lengthening (once the mind body connection is trained). Perhaps you would need to think of a flow down the back of the leg and up the front to engage proper oppositional energies and stabilize the knee (if needed).

I try not to think too much about muscles at all, but more the direction of the movement, and the energy flowing through the center of the limbs, and the bones floating. My belief is that the correct muscles engage with the proper spatial and energetic direction.

That said, I am also experimenting with doing all the micro engagements that most yoga poses “require” for length and strength. For example Tadasana (Mountain Pose) legs are created by drawing energy up through the legs into the pelvic floor, spinning the thighs back, directing the sitz bones down to the heels, widening the upper thighs out, hugging the shins in, directing the thigh bones back, and finally the shins forward. After all that, your legs will definitely feel like granite. But is all this necessary? My Alexander brain doubts it, but my experimental self is trying it on for size. My guess is that there’s a lot of micromanaging of coordination that is unnecessary once the lines of correct force are established.

You also might ask, “Is the muscular engagement functional? Does the engagement create an energetic quality and look that is desired? Does the engagement protect against hyper-extension and hyper mobility? Lengthening the legs in Mountain pose might be something quite different from standing with the dynamic neutral quality that is taught in Alexander Technique. And while “Dynamic Neutral” might be more appropriate for waiting in line in the supermarket, practicing Mountain Pose might call up specific psychological qualities and build strength relevant to a yoga practice.

The jury is out. I don’t know yet.

Seattle Space Needle Head

space-needle-720742_640The Seattle Space Needle* with it’s 360 degree wall of floor to ceiling windows and rotating restaurant bar, is a fun image to use to release your head upwards.

Without the jaw, the head, or skull to be more precise, looks a bit like the top of the Space Needle.

It helps to know that the roof of your mouth is the base of your skull.  Everything above the roof of your mouth floats up away from your neck vertebrae.

To find your 360 wall of windows, use your finger tips and trace all the way around the rim of your skull. Start at the back, the (occiput), and walk your fingers over your ears and cheekbones all the way around to your nose.

Try turning your head as though it were the top of Space Needle. Does it free something if you imagine that you have a 360 wall of windows all the way around your head?

I like to imagine myself having a fancy cocktail as I look out at the view from inside my head.

*Credit for this image goes to my colleague Kari Prindl – although I may have elaborated a bit!

 

 

 

 

Perfect Furniture

“Boy! I wish I had met you before I bought all my furniture,” said my new student, a high powered trial attorney suffering from back pain. “I thought I was buying really good sofas and chairs, but I realize that the headrests push my neck forward, and that the seats are too deep. They are probably perfect for really big men, my son loves them.

Also I bought a really expensive chair for my office. I could have saved a lot of money…”

“In just three Alexander Technique lessons,” she continued, “I’ve learned how to sit on my sit-bones. That takes away so much pain because I’m not collapsing backwards on my spine. I notice all the time now when I am crunching my body into unusual shapes, and I understand how to use myself better.

“Use” is a term in the Alexander Technique that refers to our choices, conscious or unconscious, about how we arrange our bodies in life. Most of us, by the time we are adults, have spent years squishing our bodies into painful positions. We seek the relief of perfect furniture, but find that even the most expensive items do not properly support our spines. Nor are they portable in our everyday lives.

The good news is that you already have a perfect and priceless piece of furniture, one that always travels with you, and can always make you feel comfortable — your skeleton. All you need is a mind that has learned how to balance your bones. The results is much less pain, and possibly big savings on furniture.

After Alexander Technique lessons, my students often prefer a $25 wooden chair from Ikea to a $1,181 Aeron chair.

Or, they learn to work standing.

Or I teach them how to lie down and work.

Try the Alexander Technique and learn how to depend on your skeleton for support, not your furniture.