Some Sitting Help

By Bjoertvedt - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27198216

By Bjoertvedt – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Stand up. Find your hip joints. Locate your “bikini” line, and find the place where, if you press into it, your pelvis will shoot back in space. That’s where your hip joint is. Note that this is just the frontal plane. Your hip joint is a 3D structure, and exists on the side and backplane of your pelvis also.

Place your thumbs in your hips joints and your hands around your leg bones, so that you can feel for the rotation of your thighs (femurs) as you flex and extend your pelvis. When you send your pelvis back in space, notice that your femurs internally rotate. You might be able to feel a slight widening in the sit bones. When you extend your hip joints, you will feel external rotation of the femurs, coupled with a narrowing of the sit bones.

You can also practice sitting in a chair. Explore a gentle motion of rocking forwards and backwards on your sit bones. Sense the widening of your sit bones as your rock forward, coupled with internal rotation of the femurs. Sense the narrowing of your sit bones as you rock backwards, coupled with external rotation of the thighs. Find a balance point with the pelvis slightly tilted forward (sit bones widening). This helps to establish the lumbar curve of your back and will make sitting upright feel much easier. The slight lumbar curve will also help to release the shoulders as the fascia of the back will tend to tug the shoulder blades down a bit.

How does this differ from how you ordinarily sit?

Most people have a hard time finding and moving from the hip joints. Do you bend your head forward or extend your chest instead of moving at the hip joint? To isolate the movement to your hip joints, it’s helpful to imagine a marble sliding down the chute of the spine. When it reaches the tailbone, that’s the moment to lean forward.

As a final note, this type of mechanical guidance does not sum up the Alexander technique, which I would frame as a holistic method for enhancing our conscious lived experience of being embodied. I offer this mechanical exploration, because so many of my students have discomfort sitting.

Knowing a little bit about the geometry of your bones can make a tiresome daily activity easier.

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

Eyes Free and Wide to See from the Point of Vision

Elyse Shafarman

Eyes free and wide to see from the point of vision — Countess Kitty Wielopolska

Sometimes, the Alexander Technique eye direction is described as a Zen Koan. What is the point of vision? No one knows. I imagine that the point of vision is the occipital cortex, the location in the back of the brain that does the job of seeing. Knowing that my brain can work helps me to relax my eyes. Sure, the optic muscles have plenty to do in terms of focusing and orienting, but it helps to remember that the eyes are light receptors, and it’s the visual cortex that sees.

A little history: The eye direction was originated by Countess Kitty Wielopolska, an American who attended FM Alexander’s first training courses. To say that Kitty lead an interesting life is an undersatement. She left the Alexander training course due to a schizophrenic break and spent time an institution. Her illness remitted, she became a nurse and eventually married Count Wieloplska. Later in life, Kitty completed her training as an Alexander Technique Teacher. She mastered the schizophrenic voices that still spoke to her by using the Alexandrian process of inhibition. When she heard voices, she was able to inhibit an automatic response to believe or obey them. For anyone who remembers, “A Beautiful Mind,” the story of the Nobel prize winning mathematician John Nash, this conscious route to self-healing will sound remarkably familiar. Kitty created the “eye order,” as a creative response to her sister’s narrowing vision from cataracts. Kitty observed that directing the eyes seemed to have a global effect on her quality of attention and freedom.

The direction, “Eyes wide to go apart,” frees the forehead, lips, tongue, shoulders, neck and even hips. For anyone familiar with modern research into the polyvagal theory, the connection between calm relaxed attention and freeing of key structures associated with head orientation and communication should be no surprise. Kitty and her collaborators surmised that the eye order seemed to signal her nervous system to come to a state of openness.

No doubt that what we do with our eyes and face has a lot to do with social signalling. Often we tighten our eyes to indicate that we are listening, paying attention, or even putting on our compassion face (you know what I mean). You can probably name the myriad of “faces” you wear to be liked and accepted by the tribe. Sometimes it’s a good idea to check in and ask if social signaling is replacing genuine felt emotion, and what the cost might be to your use. By “use”  I mean the total sum of your mental, emotional and physical responses to life.

An expanded visual field is conducive to psychological openness. It’s trite but true to say that with open awareness we are more likely to see more than one side to a problem. In contrast, narrow vision is correlated to problem solving and heightened vigilance (aka stress). Obviously, concentration is necessary in the short term, but when employed unremittingly, as we do in our small screen culture, it will effect the quality of our use – and perhaps our cultural behavior.

I could write more about this, and probably will, but for now, play a bit with thinking, “Eyes free to go wide”. What happens to your seeing, your breathing, your state of mind and state of heart?

To support this, here’s a practice to relax the facial muscles:
Relax Your Face, Elevate Your Mood

To learn more about Countess Wielopolska:
Here’s an article that I originally read as a xeroxed sheaf while a student at the Alexander Training Institute: From a lecture by Countess Catharine Wielopolska, Certied Alexander Technique Teacher

This book, by Kitty and interviewer Joe Armstrong is a fascinating catalog of Kitty’s life and one of the rare explorations of the relationship between the FM Alexander Technique and mental illness Never Ask Why, by Kitty Wielopolska 

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.

Half the World is Behind You

Do you find yourself sticking your neck forward and crunching your shoulders in concentration? These are common reading, texting, and speaking habits. Our need to focus to extract meaning, or to see, hear and speak drive us to push our faces forward. The urgency of social communication can undermine our natural capacity for ease. This is a common problem for my actor students who have the challenge of broadcasting emotion to the back row without sacrificing authenticity. Luckily, there is a simple solution that does not involve advanced postural cuing, hands on work from an Alexander Technique teacher, or expensive equipment. You can try it right now.

Expand your awareness to include the space behind you. Sometimes it’s helpful to actually turn around and look behind you, and then turn back and imagine you are seeing out through the back of your head, or the skin of your back. This requires a little imagination. Do you recall that feeling of knowing someone is looking at you even though they are behind you? How do we know? I don’t have the answer to this, but we can make use of our ability to extend perception to balance our use. “Use” is F.M. Alexander’s term for the way we habitually organize our movement in response to all the stimuli of life. What does it feel like to extend your awareness backwards?

Then, if you are an actor, take out some text, or a script you are learning. If your are not an actor, your phone is probably your biggest stimulus to focus forward and contract your attention. Do you feel an immediate impulse to push your neck forward? Are you holding your breath? Again, expand your attention to the space behind you. Rest a bit, and try your task again. Toggle between expanding awareness backwards, and focusing attention forward. Only practice 2-minutes, and then let it go. Otherwise, you won’t be able to get anything done. Directing attention takes a lot of cognitive resources at first! See if this short amount of practice leaves you with the spontaneous ability to broaden your awareness and breathe throughout the day.

It’s pleasant to practice expanding your field of attention outdoors while walking or exercising. It’s challenging but good to practice expanding awareness back during a conversation with someone. The heat of communicating, the need to be heard, liked, or to make your point, is often the biggest stimulus to push your head forward.

I learned this exercise from my teacher Frank Ottiwell. I had the privilege of assisting Frank’s Alexander Technique Classes for actors at American Conservatory Theater (where I still teach) for several years.  As you know, actor’s frequently stick their necks out in the urgency of communication. I’m sure you’ve seen this on stage. Two actors argue, and if you turned off the sound you would witness the argument progress as chins compete in forward motion. Frank would quip, “Half the world is behind you.” With this simple reminder the actors would find a way to speak while staying centered and free.

Speaking from the Bones

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is the Active Ingredient, by Elyse Shafarman, MA, Certified Alexander Technique Teacher

I wrote this for one of my MFA Acting students, but I think it’s relevant for all of us:

Speaking from the Bones

Before speaking, pause for a moment. Allow your chest and belly to soften, and find the support of your bones. If sitting, you could move in the chair a bit to feel your sit bones. If standing become aware of the skin contact of your feet with the floor. Try and get balanced evenly between both sit bones, or evenly between heel and toe and both feet. If standing let your knee (on the dominant leg) soften inward. If the knees lock out this will cut of your support from the floor, but it’s mostly the dominant knee that needs a little inward softening. It might feel knock-need.

Remind yourself that the resonance in your voice comes from your bones, not the muscles of your throat, and direct your neck to be easy, your head to float. Trust that the sound vibrations will resonate in the bones of your face and the throat and chest and shoulders can stay loose.

Even a little pause here and there will help maintain your energy and freedom

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

***https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill

****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

rest. do less. rest. play. do less. rest.

How do you handle the need to rest when ill, injured or mentally burnt out?

Try out the idea of allowing rest and play time, but not making it bigger than that. You don’t need to create a story about why you got sick or injured and how you could have done better. I like the phrase, “No need to make it bigger than it is.” You can say this to yourself when you start to freak out about not feeling up to par. Yes, your body needs rest to heal. This doesn’t have to to mean anything more than that.

Illness can be metaphorical, and often is, but sometimes we hang on to the illusion that if we did everything perfectly, between nutrition and mental ecology, we would never get sick. This is untrue, and creates so much pressure. What does it cost you to accept that part of living in a body is not having total control?

Take care of yourself with kindness. No need to over indulge in binge like behaviors that mask as self-care. No need to make it into a big story. Just rest and move on when you are done.

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

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