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!

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. @

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient!

Eyes up!


Eyes up!

photo on the right by Lindsay Newitter

Dear Friends,

Happy Autumn! Having just returned from the International Congress of Alexander Technique in Ireland, I am newly inspired. In light of this, you are invited to two Fall Workshops. Each can be taken on its own, or paired together.

Stand Tall & Speak with Presence
Saturday, October 3, 1–4pm · 10/3 · $45
Berkeley Rep School of Theatre

Eyes Up! Prevent “Text Neck” & Restore Spinal Length
Saturday, October 10,  1–4pm · 10/10 · $45
Berkeley Rep School of Theatre

Visit Berkeley Rep School of Theatre website to register. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions. Please share with anyone you think will benefit!

Let your neck be free and lift your eyes to see the world!

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.

Let there be love

The spine moves.
The head is part of the body.
Let the soft animal of the body love what it loves. (…wait, that’s Mary Oliver)
Let there be love (…wait, that’s a play I just saw by Kwei-Armah)
Be (…some dude named Buddha had something to say about that).

These were my thoughts after an epic Reiki session from my friend Jordana del Feld

For a brief amount of time, I dabbled in Reiki. Reiki seemed like the Alexander Technique, minus the technique. Reiki does not demand 3 years of daily training to certify as a teacher. Reiki is not concerned with movement. And Reiki does not teach people a reliable means for changing habits.

But it does offer energy flow without any ego manipulation. Isn’t that the essence of Alexander’s and the Tao’s principal of non-doing?

Everyone intuitively knows about flow state. We’ve all been lucky enough to have fleeting experiences of effortless action. But we forget that flow is our birthright. We forget that it is always available—if we get out of the way.

When I put my hands on my students, I don’t intend to ‘do’ anything to them. I am helping them learn how they can prevent pain, constriction and heaviness. How does this work? I think students get the hallmark Alexander Technique sensations of lightness and ease through resonance. That is, if I am sufficiently free, my flow will be catchy and they will catch the current of their own flow.

Still, I need my students to do more than to catch my flow. During the the lesson, they’re moving: sitting, walking, or reciting Hamlet. I’m an educator, not a therapist. I’m giving my students the means to find freedom without my help. So I ask them to imagine space here and to notice a habit there, to become conscious of the intersection between thoughts, emotions and body states, and to direct energy. I teach them techniques that they can practice on their own. The trick is to spark their awareness enough that the body transforms, but not so much that they are micro-managing alignment details.

Sometimes I think that technique is a ruse. All that’s needed is to let every opinion about bio-mechanics, habit, gravity and direction dissolve into the bliss of dancing molecules and love. There’s no need to reach for knowledge. Effortless (but not passive) absorption is effective and valid. Experience has taught me that our bones know what to do. It’s our personality (composed of our habit and ego), that forces them into uncomfortable configurations.

The Alexander Technique works indirectly to release energy flow in action. Students learn techniques to recognize and prevent limiting habits, and thus get out of the way of their own life force.  But the root of transformation is compassion, connection and love. Out of this, positive change is self-generating, the way a seed germinates and eventually reaches for the sun.

Poet Galway Kinnell said it best, Saint Francis and the Sow

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.

Practice tip: body awareness at work

1. Move.
Vary sitting and standing positions. If you are working at home, try sitting on the floor or even lying down.

2. Set a timer.
Check in with yourself at least once every hour. Ask yourself: “What am I doing with my body right now? Hone in on the particulars of what you are doing with your neck, head and spine.

Think directional thoughts:

  • free the neck, so the back of the neck is long
  • head is floating up
  • spine lengthening up with the head
  • ribs free to move with the breath
  • shoulders expand to the sides
  • elbows, wrists, and fingers free away from shoulders
  • legs release away from the torso at the hip joints
  • feet relax to feel the support of the floor

3. If you check in 8 times a day for one week, that will be 56 mini practice sessions.
You will be that much closer to body awareness and control.

4. Take a walk.
Think your directional thoughts as you walk. Research shows that the Alexander Technique combined with walking is an effective means of ending back pain.

5. Look into the distance.
Look at least 100 feet away. Look up, down, and around. Try to see things you’ve never seen before in your familiar environment. Become aware of peripheral vision. This will help counteract eye strain, and resultant facial and neck tension caused by hours of screen time.


Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.

The Alexander Technique is nothing like that.

Sometimes, I get tempted by all the “flashier” body techniques. Techniques that promise answers, that build muscle, that involve more movement, more overt breathing, more rhythm and sweat and sound. Maybe even ecstasy.

The Alexander Technique is nothing like that. It is quiet, subtle and indirect. It is powerful.

We don’t do.

We only pause and notice our habitual tensions. Once perceived, the habits that choke our freedom can be prevented.

Conscious awareness is a powerful —but ephemeral— tool for transformation.

We learn to un-do. When we do this, we may discover how easy, creative and efficient we, and our, bodies might already be.


Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.

in sickness and in health

Harboring virus

Harboring virus

This shameless “selfie” doesn’t look like I’m harboring infectious agents, but I am.

Although I had been called to Oakland for the weekend to take care of a vomiting family member, I had managed to pick up another amazing $10 Besty Johnson dress at the Alta Bates Hospital thrift shop. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. It was Sunday, and I planned to go to Studio 1924 in the evening.

I snapped the photo after delivering sizzling rice soup to my relative. I had been released to spend the afternoon at a Breema and “Non-Duality”  conference at a client’s gorgeous redwood decked view home in the Berkeley Hills. This meant lying around on ornate Persian rugs with strangers who gently and passively lifted my arms and applied rhythmic pressure to my abdomen. Then we engaged in an earnest and heated discussion about the non-dual nature of reality and the illusion of separate selves – the sort of conversation I haven’t had since I was a stoned undergraduate.

I left feeling a buzzed. I didn’t realize it was the electricity of fever.

Something was wrong at 1924. I couldn’t balance despite my sturdy Souple’s and my sweat had a strange rank smell. I made it home, downed a ton of vitamins, and went to bed.

An hour later the Nausea set in. I told myself that it was the vitamins, but I knew that even though I had washed my hands at least a 100 times while care-taking, I had succumbed. Despite the non-reality of a separate “I”, my “I” was stuck in a body that was sick as hell.

There is nothing quite as humbling as leaning your hot forhead on the cold toilet seat as you crouch shivering at 3:00 am after vomiting for maybe the 7th time. Still, a part of me was in yoga head, monitoring sensation and thinking, “Wow, amazing that my body knows how to do this.”

The vomiting stopped at 5:30 am. And at 8:00 am I had to call Berkeley Rep. It was the first day of my new Alexander Technique class. I was not going to make it.

And so I crawled into bed and shivered with fever and aches for the next 5 days. And somehow, I remained not unhappy. My yoga head was still in operation, and I relaxed into watching, with a kind of blurred amazement, as my body burned with fever, my throat furred over, my lungs filled, and the coughing began. The machinations of an immune system in action.

I was back working on Monday, back in yoga on Tuesday with wobbly balances and weak chaturangas.  I felt suffused with joy. A walk down my hallway with a body not wracked by pain felt insanely pleasing. Taking yoga filled me with so much gratitude, I was in tears. Being outdoors, seeing flowers blooming…it all made me ecstatic.

That was the good part.

The bad part was that I binge watched 4 seasons of The Good Wife.  The wet mean sounding cough and exhaustion lingered for three weeks. My life settled into a schedule of work, yoga and Amazon Prime. That’s over 88 hours of television. I’m not proud.

A month has gone by and it’s over.

I feel like a strange wet puppy trying to resurface into my life. Tango? Tango? I’m trying to imagine myself in a pretty dress and heels. I’ve grown used to shuffling around the house in mismatching socks and old T-shirts.

I am still waiting for glamor to return.

The Angry Rant

Quick protocol for stopping “The Angry Rant”.

You know what I’m talking around. You walk around rehearsing the most brilliant ways to take down your enemy. One hundred times a day, you demolish their stance with a few cutting words that reveal just how bogus and unjust they really are!!! Your body is energized as though you are preparing to attack, and indeed, you are!

Do you really want to pump all that cortisol into your blood stream? Do you really need to keep reworking the same material? Is the situation even happening in present time? Have the last hundred times you’ve replayed the argument helped resolve anything?

I’m guessing the answer is no.

I worked with an Alexander Technique student to develop a quick protocol to curtail the ranting habit.

  1. When you notice yourself ranting, ask yourself what you feel in your body.
    Alexander Technique Student: “I’m tensing my jaw and shoulders a lot.”
    The moment you notice you have the chance to make a difference.
  2. Give yourself the wish, “Let me neck relax.”
    Student: “I wish my neck to be quiet. I wish my neck to relax.”
    Neck muscles are the first muscles to tense in response to stress. Reversing the stress reaction starts with relaxing the neck.
  3. See something in the room and describe it to your self.
    Student: “I am looking at the square pattern in the curtain and the way the light moves through the fabric.”
    Focusing on something external is an effective way to bring your mind back into the room and real time.
  4. Ask yourself whether you want to be ranting.
    Student: “Do I need to be thinking about this right now? This situation isn’t happening right now.”

The more you practice, the easier you will find it to stop obsessive angry thoughts. Of course, you are always free to indulge in a rant. But now, that is your choice.

In summary:

1. When you notice yourself ranting, ask yourself what you feel in your body.
2. Give yourself the wish, “Let me neck relax.”
3. See something in the room and describe it to your self.
4. Ask yourself whether you want to be ranting.

Several years ago I went on a silent meditation retreat on the heels of a messy breakup. Spending 14 hours a day constructing arguments with my ex-was far more compelling than following my breath. I explained my predicament to one of the teachers. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, he looked straight in my eyes as he passed his hand through the air and said, “This isn’t happening right now.” With that one gesture, I understood that the only place in the entire world that the situation existed was in my mind. And, more importantly, I did not need to keep the situation alive by thinking about it.





the eleven benefits of loving kindness meditation

  1. You will sleep easily
  2. You will wake easily
  3. You will have pleasant dreams
  4. People will love you
  5. Devas (gods or angels) and animals will love you
  6. Devas will protect you
  7. External dangers, such as poisons, weapons, and fire, will not harm you
  8. Your face will be radiant
  9. Your mind will be serene
  10. You will die unconfused
  11. You will be re-born in happy realms

This is big stuff, regardless of whether you believe in angels or reincarnation.

Having good sleep, pleasant dreams, a radiant face and a serene mind, all sound pretty great to me.

Scientific research into the benefits of loving kindness (Metta) practice supports a few of these claims. Regular loving kindness meditation can:

    • Lower stress — self perceived, behavioral and physiological.
    • Enhance immunity
    • Increase behaviors that enhance social connectedness.
    • Increase happiness

Here’s a decent popular science article with links to studies: