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

From our department of wacky images…

ganesha-161003_640During lessons, Alexander students feel the amazing sensation of letting the head float. Sometimes it’s a struggle to recapture this experience without a teacher. Images can help.

For years, I’ve been playing with directing upwards from an imaginary “head” above my head. Today at Yoga Tree, while balancing precariously in Natarajasana (King Dancer Pose), I looked up and found myself staring directly at the giant mural of Ganesha the elephant god. Suddenly, my “second head” became Ganesha’s head. Ganesha loves sweets and is so humble that he rides a tiny mouse. Best of all, he is the remover of obstacles.

As it turns out, he’s also super handy for improving coordination. When I wobbled on one leg, I instantly regained balance by directing my elephant head upwards and delicately extending my nose. My practice became light and effortless. And I was amused.

If this sounds mysterious and confusing—and you’d like to experience what it’s like to let your own head float—call your local Alexander Teacher for a lesson.

Jai Ganesha!

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.

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!