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.

 

 

 

 

Oral Cavity Like a Cathedral Ceiling

Pause for a second and visualize the soft palate space, and even up above into the oral and nasal cavities, which are located just behind the cheek bones. Imagine these spaces like the dome of a cathedral ceiling rising over the throat cavity, carrying the head up. Imagine the neck muscles melting, releasing any downward pull on the head. The jaw can stay uninvolved. The jaw does not need to help lift the head or stabilize the neck.

Similarly, imagine your tailbone free to hang and move, almost like a little tadpole. No weight should be carried through the tailbone, it hangs off the sacrum and serves as an anchor for muscles of the pelvic floor. When you sit, you are on your sit bones, the tail is free.

Freeing the tail and the head to “swim” away from each other on opposite ends of the spine can help provide both length and greater spinal mobility, and encourage an elastic tone for the pelvic floor and soft palate; not too tight or too slack.

You can visualize this while sitting, walking, standing, or in other activities.

It’s very helpful to pause during daily life, check in with these areas, and remind yourself to allow more movement.

So why not let your head float up like a balloon?

As a side note, I am reviewing ideo-kinesis as I prep to teach Somatics at SFSU. How I love using imagery in teaching Alexander’s directions, instead of the dry, classic format: “Let the neck be free, in order to let the head go forward and up, etc.”. I have such a well of bitterness for being told that using images is not valid because they are not real, as if the words, “Head forward and up,” correspond to something with a fixed reality, as if the brain contacts the body by naming each muscle and bone.

FM Alexander’s observations about human functioning are mirrored across the world and across time. Perhaps he put things together in a unique way, but the core of the teachings, awareness, emptiness, letting go and not believing all your thoughts, might be called Buddhism. .

So why not let your head float up like a balloon?
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Two final notes unrelated to imagery, but related to Buddhism:
1) A friend commented that she calls Alexander Technique, “Physiological Buddhism.” It sounds fancy.
2) Alexander Teacher hands can feel like the embodiment of compassion.

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.

 

Alice’s Neck

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is The Active Ingredient

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is The Active Ingredient

Notice your solar plexus. That’s the soft area right between your ribs. It’s the place, where, if punched, knocks the wind out of you. The solar plexus is where your diaphragm, your principal breathing muscle, lives. Isadora Duncan (the famous innovator of modern dance) believed that the solar plexus initiated all movement and was the center of sensory awareness.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Celiac_plexus_coronal.png

Solar Plexus

How does your solar plexus feel? Is it tense and tight? Jumpy? Or calm and relaxed? Whenever we have a fight/flight/freeze/feed/fornicate reaction the solar plexus (aka our breathing) gets involved. It’s fruitful to spend a few days, or a whole life time, simply checking in with the solar plexus, with no attempt to change conditions. Ask yourself, “How is my solar plexus responding to riding this bus, talking to my boss, giving this hug, walking in the rain?”

Notice that when the solar plexus is tight it draws the limbs inward towards it, like a magnet. The head, neck, throat, tongue and upper chest all get pulled down. The legs get drawn up. The arms get drawn in. You might feel like a turtle.http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/creating-literary-analysis/s05-01-literary-snapshot-alice-s-adve.html

As you walk around, play with letting the solar plexus soften. A suggestion from Autogenic Training is “My solar plexus is warm and comfortable.” See if this lets your head, neck and spine grow upwards. You might feel like Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps you’ll notice your legs falling away from the middle of your body, and your arms expanding out from center. You might feel like a starfish.

Lighten up! Thinking might reduce your risk of falls

 

Look up, think up, lighten up!

Look up, think up, lighten up!

Think, “Allow my head to float up at the top of my spine. Allow my bones to send me up.” What happens to you? Do you feel a little taller and lighter? As it turns out, this simple wish, the first in the Alexander Technique lexicon, was powerful enough to improve balance and stability in elder adults in ways that are consistent with fall prevention. How safe do you feel in the shower? Falling is the top cause of accidental death in adults older than 60.

In a preliminary study (October, 2015), led by Dr. Rajal G. Cohen at the Mind in Movement Laboratory, University of Idaho, 20 adults between ages 60 and 80 had their stature and balance measured while employing three different mental strategies for changing posture.

(1) In the Relaxed condition, participants were asked to imagine that they were tired and lazy, and to stand as if no one could see them.

(2) In the Effort condition, participants were asked to use muscular effort to pull themselves up to their greatest height.

(3). In the Lighten up condition, participants were asked to imagine their head floating up off the top of the spine and their bones supporting them in an upwards direction.

Participants performed two movements, a) 30 seconds of rhythmic weight shifting from side-to-side at the rate of 72 beats per minute, and b) raising one foot rapidly. Three measurements were taken: 1) neck length, measured as the distance between the first and 7th cervical vertebrae, 2) movement of the center of mass (forward/backwards and side to side), and 3) both height and rhythm of movement.

Step aside from your screen for a second and try shifting your weight quickly from side to side for 30 seconds. Try each movement strategy. Which is easiest for you? Can you keep a steady rhythm? Which approach makes you feel most coordinated and balanced? Test a friend, and maybe get a baseline (i.e. no strategy) measurement first. Then vary the order of conditions. What are your findings?

Cohen et al. found that neck length was significantly longer in the Lighten up condition than the relaxed condition. This finding suggests that directed thinking with no muscular effort can enhance upright stance and reduce compression of cervical vertebrae. Both the Effort condition and the Relaxed condition caused the center of mass to sway significantly more during movement. This suggests that the Effort and Relax conditions worsened balance and coordination, whereas the Lighten up condition improved postural control and stability. Finally, the self report feedback from participants confirmed that the Lighten up instructions were easier to use, and led to movement that felt more balanced and secure. The latter finding is important, because fear of falling can often lead elders to restrict activity. Over time, this leads to further weakness and worsening of motor control. Could a sense of ease and balance in movement lead elders to move more? How do these findings compare to your self experiment?

It’s important to note that this was a preliminary study, with a small sample size, so results must be taken with a grain of salt. Further research is needed to measure the impact of Lighten up instruction on fall risk.

The beauty of the Lighten up intervention is that it’s just a thought. Our thinking is completely portable, requires no money and very little time. Mindfulness is sweeping the nation as a positive strategy for health and well-being. This is one of the first studies that shows that a mindfulness approach based on the Alexander Technique might improve balance and coordination in ways that could significantly decrease risk of accidental falls.

For further information, or to get a copy of the poster session, visit The Mind in Movement Laboratory
Rajal G. Cohen, Ph.D. @ rcohen@uidaho.edu

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient!

Elizabethan Collars – from the department of wacky images

queen-62969_640And this morning, it’s all about expanding space between joints. It begins with imagining the neck surrounded by one of those big, white, pleated Elizabethan ruffle collars. Then imagine the collar un-pleating and the ruffles expanding apart like an accordion. Feel your muscles unravel around your neck and throat. Feel your head have a little space to float up away from your feet. You can place an Elizabethan ruffle around your wrists and ankles. Imagine them un-ruffling. Can you let this happen between your vertebrae? It’s not long before every joint in your body is happily un-ruffling. In my mind, this image is accompanied with a sound effect, something like “Vrrppp” but a little more melodious, like the Apple Mac chime.

Why? Images help. And it’s fun.

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient