An Alexander Technique Teacher’s Back Goes Out

An Alexander Technique Teacher’s Back Goes Out

I was sitting for morning meditation and I reached diagonally to pet my cat. “Ouch!” the left side of my back said. A few minutes later, I was in the narrow area of my house where the laundry machines are lodged, performing the complicated diagonal high/low reach to move clothes from the washer to the dryer. “Owe, Owe, Owie!” my back said. “Sh*t, Fwck, D@mn!” I replied. An hour later I was on Zoom teaching the 15th and last session of the Summer Somatics Course. I had planned to lead them through a little yoga, and reached diagonally on my desk for some water, and my body froze. “Ouch, ouch, ouch!” Sorry students, no yoga for you, no dance for me. My back had gone out in that classic, vague way that people always say. As someone who never has back pain, but helps people with back pain all the time, it is a bit hard to spasm, I mean fathom (bad pun).

Actually, I did have a back spasm once six years ago. I was taking an Afro Haitian dance class and we had been practicing one of the key steps in Petwo*. According to Wikipedia, “The Petwo spirits are considered to be volatile and hot-tempered, exhibiting bitter, aggressive, and forceful characteristics.” Certainly, the dance and the music is fiery and percussive. We had been going across the floor for 20 minutes jumping into back lunges while flipping our backs into deep arches and curves. Suddenly, I felt like someone kicked me in the sacrum, probably one of the Lwa gods, and then I could not move. My back went out.

My understanding of back spasms is that the brain judges that the movement is unsafe (or life circumstances are unsafe), and does what it is needed to take the person out, before actual injury (or illness) ensues. The spasm felt like an injury but I was not injured. The pain and stiffness came from my brain protecting me from further action.

This is not to say that percussive forceful movement might not cause a muscle or ligament to tear, a fracture or an arthritic flareup. Injuries are real.

This time, the preceding events were attending a dance class and doing Pilates V-ups. “Ouch!” said my low back. “Oh, keep going,” said my brain. Later in the class, I stubbed my toe trying to beat a petite jete, a movement that I had no business attempting given 30 years absence from ballet class. Then, I went home and did some weight training because it was on my exercise calendar. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon socializing, even though I was tired.

I woke up on Monday, and my back and toe ached. I decided to skip dance for Monday and Tuesday, planning to return on Wednesday. My schedule was brimming with dance classes, a tight 4 day timeline to get grades in for the Summer Session, an onslaught of final papers to grade, four all-day tango workshops with a master from Argentina, four new students, and the 1-week turnover to the Fall Semester. Some part of me thought it was going to be hard to get everything done, the other part of me really wanted to do it all, “Life happens now! You can rest when you are dead!”

On Wednesday, I cancelled all my private students and began the lifestyle that I would repeat for the next seven days with increasing pain. Creeping around the house, taking hot baths, moving in bizarre ways to not trigger the pain, and feeling afraid and depressed. I worried that I had torn a ligament or a muscle, pinched a nerve, fractured a vertebrae, slipped a disc, or had arthritic inflammation. After many emails, my doctor ordered an X-ray and referred me to a PT.

The $450 X-ray showed mild hypertrophy (overgrowth) of the facet joints between my sacrum and lumber spine.

My doctor emailed me the next morning saying that it was likely that I was experiencing an arthritic flareup in the facet joints of my lumbar spine. As soon as I read this, I could feel how right she was. Although the pain had been moving all over my body, from my sacrum, to my left hip, to my left psoas, to my left obliques, to my left QL, to my right QL, now I could feel with total precision how the pain was centered and burning in the facet joints of my lower spine. The more I felt into the area, the more the pain increased. I could feel it so clearly, hot, red and throbbing.

But at 8:45 am, I had a video appointment with a Kaiser PT. How could a video appointment help? Screw my crappy plebian health insurance. I needed someone to see me and touch my back, but I logged in anyway.

“Did you see my X-ray I said? “Mild facet hypertrophy at L5-S1?” I quoted the radiology report. It feels like most of the pain is localized now to my left QL.”

“We don’t diagnose that way anymore,” she said. “We don’t go by anatomy. The research doesn’t support it.” My heart warmed slightly, since I knew of what she spoke. Then she went full on biopsychosocial pain model on me. “We diagnose by asking the patient a series of questions.” And then she proceeded to do with me exactly what I do with my own students.

“Does it hurt more in the morning or evening?”
“Does it hurt all the time or only during specific movements?
“Only certain movements”
“Which movements does it hurt?” She had me lean forward (ouch, ouch, ouch), she had me bend back, (ahh!).
She watched the way I was moving: Super stiff like an android, holding my back straight and descending and rising in sharp vectors using only my leg joints.

She determined that it was not an arthritic flare-up, or a tendon tear or other injury.

“Your X-ray is totally normal, and the facet joints looked exactly the same 3 weeks ago when there was no pain. The reason you are in pain is that you are moving stiffly, and you are over-focusing on the pain. You need to go back to work and start living normally, and try to move as fluidly as possible. The pain is due to tight muscles, and the reason it’s moving around is that you are moving in odd ways in anticipation of pain. Try to move fluidly.”

Who’s the Alexander Technique teacher now?

My understanding is that even with arthritic pain this is true. I see this all the time in my students. The way there are bracing to avoid putting pain into an arthritic knee actually twists the bones in a way that counters how the knee is “designed” to bend, and causes more compression and pain. Often, I can help them direct their bones in such a way that they have no pain in the inflamed joint. None of this is to say that you should ignore pain and push through it, but what you do for an injury depends on the type of injury – and the way you move with that injury will matter long term.

Ah, I said. Yes, I am very familiar with the biopsychosocial model of back-pain. This is the first time I have lived it.

I mentioned my schedule and commented that I wondered if the back spasm was related to overscheduling myself and my body acting drastically to protect me.

“Well, yes,” she said. “There’s a lot of research on that.”

Huh, I said. Huh.

I mentioned that I had taken a page from John Sarno and started journaling to see if my pain was due to blocking anger.

Huh, she said, Huh.

We set up a follow up appointment. My game plan was to move fluidly, to not brace for movements that I expected to hurt, and try to return to normal life.

Within one day the intensity of the pain was down about 50%, within two days, about 90%. Teaching Alexander Technique lessons helped a lot (who can forget that Alexander Technique is good for chronic low back pain ). At three days out, I’m still hovering at 90% and waiting for my body to decide that it’s safe enough to release those muscles.

Back pain, commented my friend Nik, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You get pain, and your brain goes, “Danger!” and causes muscles to clench, which hurts, so your brain concludes, “I was right! Danger!” and so the pain escalates.

The next day, I decided to step up on a chair with my left leg and noticed I had almost no strength. It seemed like my left psoas was not firing. Then I remembered that this Spring I hurt my left hip in a dance class doing contemporary floor work. For about a month, flexion hurt, especially those movements you never noticed before, like lifting your leg to put on your underwear on. Owe! Then the pain went away.

I always wonder how people’s bodies can get so twisted and tensed, off-center, rigid and wooden and imbalanced, but I think I just got the personal view. Without conscious knowing, our brain changes our movement path to avoid pain, and then those accommodations never go away, and cause more problems, and so more accommodations are made, and more necessary muscles are no longer firing, and more compensations are made, until after so many years the body is rigid and twisted, with muscles physically shortened, connective tissues bunched and stiff, and the brain patterning that controls smooth coordination forgotten.

I looked at how I was stepping up on that chair with my left leg compared to my right and did what I knew to coordinate my left side. The psoas fired, the step was easy and powerful. My left leg was not weak, it was just offline. I think that my brain, unbeknownst to me, had been steering me away from using my left leg.

It’s been two weeks since I’ve dared dancing. I hope to get back to class on Monday.

As awful as this experience is, and I can say that constant pain is bloody awful, totally exhausting, souring of the mood and isolating, I have no doubt that this first-hand experience of my first full on mysterious “back-going-out” episode will be helpful for me as I help others. And hopefully, I will be more attuned to the signs of over-doing that probably got me here.

I’ll conclude with a note to myself. Dear Elyse, you have a habit of always wanting a more spacious schedule, but you book up your life to the hilt and only rest on an emergency basis. What if you tried to schedule your time more spaciously?

*here’s a video of the incredible Portsha Jefferson teaching Petwo. It gives me chills to watch:


BodyProject Blog ~ where thought is the Active Ingredient, by Elyse Shafarman

Like a bird, I walked into a glass door this morning, right before my first class of the year at American Conservatory Theater, where I teach Alexander Technique to MFA actors. My aim was to arrive early, but events *conspired* against me. The outfit was wrong. I needed to bring lunch. I couldn’t find my keys. By the time I arrived downtown, my heart was beating rapidly, a staccato accompaniement to the inner monologue featuring my pet fears. I dashed into Peet’s to grab the coffee I hadn’t had time to make. The line was long and the clock was ticking. “Let’s skip the coffee,” I thought, and spun towards the exit, promptly bashing my nose against the newly washed glass door.

I heard the crowd gasp. Stars and stinging pain, but no time to stop. My class was in 15-minutes. When I got inside the building, I noticed that my nose was bleeding and turning purple. Luckily, emergency ice packs are never in short supply at A.C.T. It’s easy to injure yourself while conjuring the energies of the unconscious.

It did made a good opening story, illustrating two key principles of the Alexander Technique:

1)  Awareness – of self and environment

2) Taking time.

Clutching my ice-pack, I taught for the next five hours. I felt my neck stiffening, a predictable result of the impact and nerves. But as you teach Alexander Technique, you also apply the principles to yourself. I taught my students to imagine warm coconut oil lubricating the joint that connects the neck to the head. We found ways of moving where tight muscles unraveled and space opened between joints. We paid attention to our bodies, but also our minds and our emotions. We dwelt in that space, which so few of us ever give ourselves, where we take time to notice impulses and chose our course of action. By the afternoon, my neck tension was gone. I felt good enough to take a dance class (first checking with the advice nurse at Kaiser. Head Trauma is nothing to joke around with).

My colleague, Monika Gross, shared the following story about Frank Pierce Jones, a renowned American Alexander Technique teacher and Classics professor, who conducted the first scientific studies on the Alexander Technique at Tufts University in the 1960’s and 70’s.

I heard a great AT anecdote involving Frank Pierce Jones. He was in London during one of the trips he made to take lessons from FM Alexander. One day following a lesson, he went back to his hotel room and he raised up the window to let in some air. He didn’t realize the frame didn’t have a mechanism to stay up by itself, and it landed right on his hand. A massive wooden old London hotel windowframe. Yes, very much pain was felt. He said later, he didn’t know exactly why but because he had just come from a lesson he thought, “Oh well, I’ll just stop and direct myself for awhile.” (After extricating his hand first, I assume… That would have been unusually skilled levels of inhibition otherwise!:) He said that the next day, he didn’t even have a bruise on his hand, and he was quite impressed with the result of his “Quick on the Pause” response to a trauma.

Like Jones, I had minimal bruising and no neck pain on the following day, perhaps due to the Alexander Technique.

And although there was nothing overtly dangerous about my lateness, the panicky thoughts created a situation where I was accident prone. We learn (or, in my case learn again) in the Alexander Technique that we have a choice about our reactions. Headlong rushing rarely delivers the calm, cool and on-time result one might hope for.

For all of us, it’s helpful to remember to take more time. More than anything we do, it’s often the empty space we leave – between – where life/body/mind resolves and organizes.

Beating Anxiety With Self-Talk: A Cheat-Sheet, Guest Blog by Caitlin Margaret

Think back to the last time you were anxious.

Do you remember the conversation you were having with yourself before the anxiety hit?

Probably not. Most likely, you can only remember how you felt. The fear. The panic. The worry.

And that’s normal. We can get so overwhelmed by the feelings that anxiety brings on that we don’t pay any attention to what we’re saying to ourselves in the moment.

In an earlier post, we talked about the importance of tackling anxiety from every angle. And how we talk to ourselves is a big factor in that equation.

In this post, I want to help you identify your negative self-talk patterns and offer a proven way to help you flip that internal script around and lower your anxiety as a result. When you’re done reading, download your self-talk cheat sheet to beat anxiety and write your own personalized script.

Dealing with Anxiety: What were you thinking?

One of the biggest challenges for a lot of my clients is identifying the negative thoughts that race through their minds when they’re anxious.

Many of them are so used to their own self-abusive chatter—“What’s wrong with you?” “How are you going to screw this one up?”—that they’re not even aware of it or how it’s fueling their anxiety, making it next to impossible to manage.

Ask yourself this: In most situations, but especially stressful ones, do you tend to turn on yourself? Do you find yourself saying things like, “Ugh, What’s my problem?” or start making a mental list of  all the ways that you could fail?

That, my friends, is negative self-talk.

It’s the damaging thoughts to ourselves about ourselves. And these anti-pep talks feed anxiety.

But there are proven practices for overcoming these thought patterns, most notably, those derived from cognitive behavioral therapy and positive psychology

The primary principle of these practices is that our thoughts lead to our feelings. And those feelings lead to our behaviors.

Try this … close your eyes and say to yourself “I am stupid and ugly.”

How do you feel physically? Do you feel tightness in your chest? Or sick to your stomach? Do you feel small? Drained?

How about emotionally?

Do you feel a little beat up? Hopeless? Depressed?

What actions would you take if you were faced with a stressful situation right now? Would how you feel make you more likely to retreat or react defensively?

Now, close your eyes, and this time tell yourself, “I am beautiful on the inside and outside.”

Now how do you feel? Does your body feel lighter and more energized? Are you happier and less anxious? How would you handle that stressful situation now?

Thoughts drive feelings and actions … and anxiety

With the exception of some basic reflexes, our thoughts precede our feelings and actions, and influence both.

The thoughts we have are based on how we’re taught perceive our world. In any given situation, what we’re thinking about what’s happening is determined by the conclusions we’ve drawn from our experiences over the years.

These conclusions have been drawn mostly in our subconscious mind, so many times we’re not even aware of them. As a matter of fact, throughout the day our brain is acting on hundreds of unconscious thoughts before our conscious mind even catches on.

For example, an abused or neglected child will have significantly different thoughts about family life from a child raised with love and respect.

And his negative thoughts about his family—that he’s not loved or valued—will likely lead to feelings of anxiety or depression when he thinks about starting a family of his own.

But the person raised in a loving home will probably feel connected and appreciated when thoughts about family come up.

Constructive Self-talk Decreases Anxiety

So how do you fight back against your own negative thoughts when they’re often so deeply ingrained? Well, here’s the good news: Negative self-talk is just a habit. All thinking patterns are, really. And all habits can be broken.

You can start training your mind to overcome these thoughts by identifying each one and transforming it into a constructive, uplifting statement. This constructive self-talk becomes your new habit, replacing that old, broken record of your damaging inner dialog.

Now, keep in mind we’re using the word “constructive” here, and not “positive.” It can be hard to truly buy into “positivity” when you’re feeling down. This should be an authentic experience that rings true to you. You can’t fool yourself, after all.

Constructive self-talk isn’t about being constantly cheerful and ignoring reality. It just means that you actively choose to quiet that inner critic and replace it with empowering thoughts that are more based in reality.

So, how does it work? It’s all about neuroplasticity.

Each time you have a repeated experience, like your daily drive to work, you deepen the neural grooves in your brain that help you remember it. Eventually, you don’t even think about the ride anymore, you just automatically know how to get there.

Let’s say one day you start taking a new route. Now you’re creating new neural pathways to embed those directions in your brain. And the more those neurons fire and communicate, the stronger that neural pathway becomes. Pretty soon, driving that route is second nature.

Breaking negative thought patterns works the same way. If, instead of telling yourself you’re going to bomb before a presentation, you remind yourself that you’re qualified to speak on the topic and providing value to your audience, you’ll soon be more inclined to approach the podium with more confidence.

This neuroplasticity allows for the reprogramming of our brains  to naturally gravitate to more compassionate self-talk over time.

And research shows constructive self-talk can boost your confidence and greatly reduce your stress levels and anxiety.

And the benefits don’t end there. Change your negative thought patterns and you’ll also see:

  • A longer, healthier life
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Less colds
  • Increased psychological and physical well-being
  • Improved cardiovascular health

It takes three to four weeks of daily practice to form a new habit to get your brain to make the switch over to more constructive thought patterns. I want to help you take the first step.

The cheat sheet I’ve shared here takes you through the exact process that has helped hundreds of my clients turn their negative thoughts on their head to create loving and constructive self-talk and overcoming their anxiety once and for all.

Once you’ve created your personalized script, habit-ize it baby! Ingrain that sucker. Keep it with you throughout the day. Put a copy in your wallet. Write it on a post-it and stick it on your mirror. Record it on your phone.

Then read it at least three times a day. Listen to it on your way to work. Let it be your support when you’re faced with a stressful situation.

The more you repeat it, the more you’ll deepen those shiny new neural grooves in your brain. Until one day your brain is teaming with constructive statements, and there’s no room left for anxiety—which will lead to a big boost in confidence.

Download your cheatsheet now!

About the author:
Caitlin Margaret is a Holistic Life Coach, empowering men and women around the world to naturally heal their anxiety, turn their professional dreams into reality, and design vibrant and meaningful lives

Neck Tension and Decisions

We know that the Central Nervous System (CNS) is the body’s gatekeeper. It determines how far you can bend, what movements you can do, and whether you feel stiff or fluid. This is not to say that there are no other important variables such as sleep, diet, bone morphology, age, exercise…the list goes on. But at the root, if you want a free neck, your CNS has to believe that you are safe, or at least effective – able to handle the challenges thrown in your path.

A friend of mine is facing some pretty challenging decisions about career, location, artistic aspirations. Big Life Stuff. His body is rebelling with aches and pains, and he is having a hard time choosing his next step.

I suggested that he pay attention to the situations and conditions that make him feel safe. To notice where “the soft animal body*” is intuitively drawn.

Obviously, as adults we have to negotiate fear and do things our animal body does not like. On the other hand, it is important to notice where and when we feel safe, and to wonder if the fear is reflexive normal fear of change, or if there is something deeper going on.

But is it always a good idea to rely on felt sensation? One of F.M. Alexander’s key principals is that body feelings are set by habit. In the same way we can have emotional reactions that don’t fit current situations, we can have muscle sensations based on our expectation, not on incoming data. We might instinctively clutch in fear, but how much of those sensations are based on something that is really dangerous? In these cases, F.M. Alexander’s solution was to use his conscious reasoning processes. I think this is a good idea, if we intelligently blend reasoning with attention to sensation.

Happiness might be the opposite of fear. Happiness is a moving towards something – an expansion. Fear is about moving away from something – retraction, contraction. Sure, it is possible to be both fearful and happy at the same time, and this creates an interesting push-pull within the body. But, what if you let happiness, not fear, be your directional guide? Would your neck then relax? And how can you know what will truly make you happy? Something else to worry about. Is this all too Woody Allen**?

Humans tend to have a baseline level of happiness***. Even after catastrophic events, barring lingering trauma, we return, more or less, to our usual levels of happiness. This seems hard to believe, and perhaps simplistic, but it’s also good news. Maybe the stuff that happens to us doesn’t matter as much as we think it will. And maybe our choices are less important than we believe them to be

Moreover, studies about happiness show that humans are terrible predictors of what will make them happy****. Our best data points are not ourselves, but other people who have already made the decision we are considering. Newsflash, you are more like everyone else than our individualizing culture would have you believe. So, do you know other people who have made one or all of the scary choices you are considering? Do you know someone who has: Picked a College, Changed Careers, Moved to another Country, or any other of the more trivial decision (Purchased an Instant Pot, Called Him Back, Gotten rid of those Clothes) that might be blocking your flow and causing unconscious tension? I strongly encourage you to talk to those people, and listen to your own body feelings as you do. Perhaps then, your CNS will determine that you are safe, your neck will relax, your heart rate will regulate and you will move and live with more ease.

*Quote taken from Mary Oliver’s Gorgeous, Poem Wild Geese.

**from the Annie Hall era


****This is from Daniel Gilbert’s excellent book, Stumbling on Happiness.

Bodyproject Blog ~ Where Thought is the Active Ingredient, By Elyse Shafarman, MA, Certified Alexander Technique Teacher

relax your face, elevate your mood

Allow my forehead to smooth down towards my brows
Allow my temples to relax and widen
Allow my eyes to soften and float
Allow my cheek bones to widen
Allow my nose to relax
Allow my inner ears to soften inward
Allow my lips to be easy
Allow my tongue to be easy
Allow my teeth and gums to relax
Allow my jaw to float (mentally see the jaw as a limb, distinct from the head, and imagine you have taken yours off)
Imagine a smile

These phrases help release facial tension. Sometimes, I just say to myself,

All of me

If you like, you might try recording this for yourself and listening to it from time to time. If you do tape it, pause a bit between each line so you have a chance to think about what each line means. Send the messages for peace and ease, but don’t feel you need to make anything happen. In Alexander Technique lessons you learn how to hone the mind body connection, but anyone can get a start by the simple and powerful act of thinking into the body.

We know from studies of psychophysiology that tension in the face is correlated with mental/emotional stress, and a relaxed face correlates with a state of ease and happiness. In fact, there’s even evidence that there is a causal relationship between putting on a smile and a boost in mood. I’m certainly not suggesting that you fake your way through the holiday season (there’s also evidence that repressing emotions may result in lowered memory retention), but I offer these phrases as a way to systematically gain more control over chronic facial tension.

Happy Holidays!

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


Rise Up

Compressing yourself in sympathy for the pain in the world does not help anyone. While ebullience might be socially inappropriate, a public show of sympathetic tension only saps your own energy. You are needed, to compassionately hold presence and act. This takes immense resources.

Yes, empathetic physical tension may be innate. We do feel others pain in our own body. We wince and flinch in response to onscreen punches. We cry when we hear about Michael Brown, Puerto Rico, Vegas, Napa and on. We practitioners feel our student’s sore knees and aching shoulders, but how much we continue to take on our own shoulders is a choice.

I’m feeling quite hopeless about the world but this does not mean that I am collapsing.

Thoughts about the Alexander technique. Thoughts about social and environmental justice. Thoughts about the meaning of compassion.


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

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

Response to NYT article “Alternatives to Drugs for Treating Pain”, by Jane Brody

Body Project Blog ~
Where Thought is the Active Ingredient

Regarding the Sept 11, 2017 NYT Well article: Alternatives to Drugs for Treating Pain

I applaud Jane Brody for presenting a great list of non invasive treatments for back pain – missing from this list is the Alexander Technique, one of the few methods that has been subjected to a large  (n = 579) randomized controlled trial. Alexander Technique was effective for mitigating low back pain, both after treatment and at a 1-year follow up, as compared to both massage therapy and a no treatment educational control condition, See: Randomised controlled trial of Alexander technique lessons, exercise, and massage (ATEAM) for chronic and recurrent back pain for details. More recently Alexander Technique has been shown to lower neck pain, and mitigate pain in knee osteoarthritis possibly due to improved gait mechanics, although admittedly the latter study has a small sample size, limiting the reliability of results.

Alexander Technique, in my opinion, is a superior intervention because it teaches mindful awareness AND a way of moving that is arguably far more efficient, that will prevent and heal the wear and tear on your body from poor movement habits, and encourage you to move more, because the act of moving has suddenly become pleasurable. To the extent that pain and muscle tension is caused by moving in an inefficient manner, Alexander Technique provides a solution. To the extent that pain and muscle tension results from mental stress, Alexander Technique also provides a solution. you enjoyed this post, sign up to have blogs sent to you

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:

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 ·

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.