Let your mind expand

One of the things that distinguishes Alexander Technique from posture training is that we look at coordination as a function (or expression) of attention. If our awareness is narrowed we tend to constrict our breathing and our bodies. If our awareness is broad we tend to open up. Expanding our field of attention may not be a complete solution for postural ease, but it’s an easy first step.

The next time you feel tense make this little plan: “If I feel tense, I will expand my awareness to the world around me.”

Let me know how it goes!

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

Stiff Lower back?

Tight Jaw? Tension between your shoulder blades? Landing heavily on your heels when walking?

Make sure your rib cage is not lifted up! The cue I use in Alexander Technique lesson is to drop the xiphoid process, which is the little bony point at the end of the sternum. If you look at the image to the left, the xiphoid process is highlighted in gold. You can imagine it like a pendant hanging straight down, or joke with yourself that it’s rude to point your xiphoid process at someone.

If the xiphoid process is sticking out, it will cause you to lean back. If it is dropped towards the ground, you will find your weight centered on your feet, and that your arms and shoulders are freer to swing when walking.

If the xiphoid process is sticking out, it will prevent you from exhaling fully, and of course, inhaling fully. Observe how letting the xiphoid process hang affects your breathing. It’s a very tender spot in the body. It lives in front of the heart, lungs and diaphragm. You might even experiment with feeling a bit like you are burying it inside your body on the exhale.

Even though you feel more relaxed, you might suddenly start to worry that you are slumping! Go ahead, lift your xiphoid process back up to see what your habit of good posture is.  Does this feel super stiff and tense? Go back and forth until you can feel the difference between your idea of good posture and the reality of efficient body mechanics.  If the head drops when you drop your xiphoid process, that’s just information that you’ve been lifting your chest to keep your head up. Trying floating your eyes up, and moving your head from the atlanto occipital joint.

In lessons, I work with my students to understand how correcting a local “part” of the body affects the whole to create better posture, balance and breath.

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

 

Some notes on breathing

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

The Three Breathing Spaces exercise encourages calm:

  1. Breath into your Lower Space (Pelvic floor and lower belly), make a Shhhh sound on exhale, 5 – 10 times.
  2. Breathe into your Middle Space (Solar plexus, lower ribs front and back), make a Sssss sound on exhale, 5 – 10 times.
  3. Breathe into your Upper Space (Upper chest, including armpits and above collar bone), make a Hu sound on exhale, 5 – 10 times..

Any extended exhale will automatically calm you down by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, or PNS – think “P” for peace. Just one minute of 6-count exhalations is all you needs for a quick stress reset.

Anxiety automatically causes breath holding or short fast breathing, and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, or SNS – think “S” for stress.

Normal human functioning requires a balance between the PNS and SNS. When anxious or in pain, we tend to get too much SNS activity, which can be bad for health.

However, not all stress is bad for you. If you mentally interpret your quick breath and fast beating heart as your body preparing for high stakes activity (fighting, fleeing, or public speaking), you will not experience negative effects from SNS activation, and you will calm down faster. For more info on this watch: How to Make Stress Your Friend. An excellent book on the physiology of stress is “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcer’s” by Robert Sapolsky.

Here are some videos that show the action of the diaphragm, ribs and lungs in integrated breathing. These images show how much inner movement is involved in breathing. You can remind yourself to allow free breath by visualizing these images. Or for fun, try imagining that you are a sleeping baby or sleeping cat. Notice how breathing expands and moves your whole body – when you allow it!

3 D View of the Diaphragm

Lungs: Move well and avoid injury

Diaphragm movement

Pelvic Floor

Pelvic Floor and Diphragm

 

 

See Three Things

When we worry about getting things right, we tend to stop breathing, grip up and try harder. The harder we try, the tighter we get.

Here’s a practice (adapted from Peter Levine’s Somatic Experience Work) that will help you stop worrying and relax into presence and a broader perspective.

Let your eyes dance around the environment until they land on something pleasant. This might take some imagination, but usually there’s something interesting to look at: the sky; the glint of light on a glass; or a crack in the sidewalk. Then, as if you were writing an essay, describe the object. Briefly observe your body. Do this three times. Then return to the original issue. Has the problem lessened in some way? Is your breath easier? Is your neck freer? Are you still worrying? Can you now approach the original problem with less effort?

For example:

Caught in the repetitive loop of worry, my chest is tight, my breathing is shallow and my hands are cold. Wrenching my attention away from my inner story, I look at the folds of my white curtain. The curtain hangs gracefully. The light flows through softly. My chest feels cool. I see the moldings on the ceiling. The light plays over the smooth ridges turning the white stripe shades of beige and cream. My forehead feels smooth. The pencil in the jar glints pink, silver and orange. The pop of color pleases me. My facial muscles relax. I feel less fearful.

Looking around and actively perceiving ones relationship to the external world is one of the quickest ways to gain perspective. Seeing helps us leap outside the box of negativity.

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient!

May I be safe…

You can combine the thought, “Allow my neck to be free,” with the thought, “May I be safe.” If this begins a conversation with yourself about safety, look around. See things in your environment.  Feel the sensations of your feet on the floor. Remind yourself gently that, at this point in your development, muscle tension is not protective, even if it once was.

My friend, movement coach Darius Nissan Carrasquillo Sohei, said, “Remember that the nervous system craves information to know it’s safe. When you get anxious, pause and collect data in as many ways as you can: eyes, ears, fingers and toes. Even turn around a few times.”

After this brief conscious exploration of your physical and mental terrain, quietly return to the wish:  Allow my my neck to be free. Is it easier to let go of unnecessary tension in your neck?

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.

2 New Group Classes and AT + Yoga!

I’m happy to announce two group classes this summer. See below for details. I’m also  offering private yoga sessions with the Alexander Technique. Get the benefits of yoga without fear of injury!

Do you want to start yoga but fear hurting yourself? Are you an experienced practitioner, but still find nagging tension and pain in certain poses? I can support you. Experience safety and freedom all at once. Call 415-342-6255 for a free phone consultation

Upcoming Classes:

Alexander Technique and Linklater Voice with Lisa Anne Porter
Vocal Freedom and Connected Communication!
THU 7–10pm · 7/2, 7/9, 7/16, 7/23, 7/30, 8/6 · $265

Berkeley Rep School of Theatre
2025 Addison St, Berkeley CA 94704
Registration online here

This class offers an enriched experience for actors seeking vocal freedom, postural improvement, and an easy, more connected desire to communicate. Through the Alexander Technique, students learn a systematic method to relax, align, and free themselves from limiting tension habits. With a new degree of physical control and ease in place, students move more quickly and deeply into the material developed by Kristin Linklater to free the natural voice.

You’ll learn exercises that will provide a freer, deeper and fuller breath connection, and will allow you to reveal thoughts and feelings, rather than portraying them.

Do I need to be an actor to take the class?

No. Although this class is designed for actors, it will benefit all who wish to discover the keys to powerful communication and authentic voice.

___________________________________________________

Natural Movement, Voice Production, Creativity!
Alexander Technique at Studio A.C.T.
Mondays and Wednesdays · 6:30-8pm · 7/20 – 8/26 (10 sessions) · $305

Studio A.C.T.
30 Grant Avenue 7th floor
San Francisco, CA 94108
Registration online here

The Alexander Technique is among the most widely practiced performance-related techniques in the world. The technique positively affects body alignment, efficiency of movement, and redistribution of tension. This course is suitable for students of all levels of experience.

You will learn how to recognize and undo habits of muscular tension that get in the way of natural movement, voice production, and creativity.

You will learn how to become more deeply present in yourself and in the world by accessing your innate power and flexibility.

You may feel relaxed in this new state of mindfulness.

You may also find the technique useful in improving posture, freeing voice and deepening your understanding of the human body.

Alexander Technique is the perfect companion to any other Studio A.C.T. course and to your life. Contact me with any questions: elyse@bodyproject.us

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.

Is my neck free?

Are you wondering if your neck is free? Check your breathing. If your breath is flowing easily and clearly discernible at the nostrils, the chances are that your neck is free.

The instant you begin to wonder, “Is my neck free?” you’re already tightening it to find out. That said, it never hurts, even if you are breathing, to give the wish to do less with your neck.

To read more about this, see Thinking Aloud, by Walter Carringto, pp. 64.

 

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.

Practice tip: improve breathing and relax

Practice a long whispered “Ahhh” sound. The most important part is to relax and wait for the body to breathe in on its own.

On the exhale, think about softening the neck and jaw. Imagine the spine and head lengthening up to the sky on the exhale.

It helps to smile gently with your eyes.

You can practice standing or sitting, but lying on the floor in constructive rest is the easiest.

Practice 3 to 5 whispered “Ahhhs”— or whatever syllable feels good— and then watch your natural breath.

Repeat as many times as you like.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Practice tip: 3-D Breathing for Back Pain

A student emailed me this morning to say, “I just wanted to let you know that the three-dimensional breathing technique you taught me saved my back yesterday.”

3-D breathing, adapted from Betsy Polatin’s wonderful new book, The Actors Secret, helps you experience optimal movement of the ribs and torso during breath.

Try 3-D breathing:

1. Front to back dimension: Place a hand on your belly and a hand on your low back. You will naturally feel your belly expand and deflate as you breathe. You can also feel more subtle movement in your low back. Visualize more of the breath movement happening in your back. This will help widen and relax the back muscles. Do you feel more movement in your back after visualizing?

Next, bring a hand on your sternum and a hand on your back near your shoulder blades. If your shoulders are too tight to easily reach your back, you can place a hand on a friend’s back to feel their breath movement. Yours will be similar.  Remove your hands and sense your own breath movement. Did you know that most of your lung tissue is in the back of your body?

2. Side to side dimension: Place your hands as comfortably as you can on your side ribs. Feel the horizontal expansion of your ribs as you inhale. Feel the deflation of your ribs as you exhale. Stay for a few breaths. Remove your hands and sense your rib motion.

3. Bottom to top dimension: Place a hand above your collar bone on your uppermost rib (yes, there’s a rib above your collar bone!). Place a hand below your sit bone or at your perineum. Feel the rise of the upper ribs, and the fall of your pelvic floor as you inhale. As you exhale, you may feel the pelvic floor rise and the spine lengthen upwards. If you can’t sense anything at first, take a few big breaths as if you were at the doctor’s office. Once you get the feeling, breathe normally. Then remove your hands and sense the movement.

Which dimensions of breathing are familiar to you? Which do you use rarely?

Does the act of noticing your breathing automatically improve the quality? Is your breath smoother, deeper, or easier in any way?

In your day-to-day life, start by sensing one breath dimension at a time. Can you sense your breath while talking on the phone, eating, or texting?

 

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.