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!

Tip for knees

A toddler demonstrates perfect knee bending technique with a twist. This is close to Parsva Utkatasana.

A toddler demonstrates perfect knee bending technique with a twist. This is close to Parsva Utkatasana.

I wrote this tip for a student who was having difficulty with her knees in yoga. But the tip works great for sitting, climbing stairs and many other knee-bending activities.

When you begin to bend your knees in a yoga pose like Utkatasana (Chair), or Virabradasana 2 (Warrior), take a moment to change your thinking. The habit that we all have when we bend is to think about lowering ourselves down in space. We end up pressing down into our knees.

Instead, imagine your whole body moving up as you bend your knee. To avoid pushing down into the knee joint, imagine the knee swinging away from the hip and ankle joints. Thinking head and body up, and knees forward and away will leave your knees feeling more spacious.

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.

Practice tips for better speaking voice

Many of my students have F.M. Alexander’s problem with their voice.

They prepare to speak by breathing in with a large gasping sound. The neck juts forward into a “turkey” position as the muscles of the throat and neck constrict. This habit squeezes the larynx and cuts off breath. It’s no surprise that the throat feels strained and the voice sounds weak, scratchy or even froggy. The message that’s being communicated may also be thwarted by physical tension. Listeners read body language, therefore they may “hear” tension more loudly than words.

Here are some tips to improve the sound and impact of your speech.

Practice speaking when you are in constructive rest. Observe yourself. Do you lift your chin when you prepare to speak? What happens to the muscles in your neck and throat?  It can be hard to stop these habits unless you employ F.M. Alexander’s brilliant discovery. Preparatory tension goes away when you decide not to speak!

Press pause on your decision to speak. You can tell yourself,  “No,” or, “I don’t need to speak.” Instead, focus on allowing your belly to be soft. Let your breath come and go.

Imagine the muscles in the back of the neck gathered together by a large bow tie. Imagine pulling the strings so the knot unravels and the muscles at the back of the neck lengthen.

Imagine your collarbones as the strings of a cape. The cape drapes across your back and shoulders, and includes your arms and shoulder blades. Chances are those cape strings are very tight. Imagine untying the cape strings at your collarbones. You might feel your shoulders widen, your chest expand, and your throat loosen.

Imagine a head floating above your own head. Let this head do the talking.

How does your voice sound now? How does your body feel? How is your breathing?

Be aware of your head and neck when you say, “and,” and “uh.” These are place saving words that communicate, “Don’t interrupt me. I have the floor now.” Often, these words are connected to strong tension habits. Does your voice sound better when you skip saying “uh”?

It’s fun to play around on your own, but for a more powerful improvement in your voice, book a lesson with a local Alexander Technique Teacher.

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.

Is my neck free?

Are you wondering if your neck is free? Check your breathing. If your breath is flowing easily and clearly discernible at the nostrils, the chances are that your neck is free.

The instant you begin to wonder, “Is my neck free?” you’re already tightening it to find out. That said, it never hurts, even if you are breathing, to give the wish to do less with your neck.

To read more about this, see Thinking Aloud, by Walter Carringto, pp. 64.


Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.

Practice tip: sitting at work

How many different ways can you sit? How many different ways can you stand?

The top row of this poster, “Think Outside the Chair“* might give you some ideas for ways to vary sitting and standing poses. If you have the latitude at work, don’t limit yourself to chairs. Stand up, sit on the floor or even lie down for some of the time.

Are you practicing sitting in a chair without back support? It’s easiest if you’re sitting quite high up (on a bar stool for example). The greater the angle between your legs and torso (approximately 120 degrees might be ideal), the easier it is to sit upright. The closer your legs and torso are to making a right angle, the more strain it puts on the back. Sitting on the corner of a chair (pointy edge between the legs) is an easy way of getting on top of your sit bones. This also helps your back.

Chose about 4 different sitting positions and 4 different standing positions and consciously rotate through them during your day. It’s really hard on the body to hold the same position for 8 hours, but not so bad to sit and stand in a bunch of different ways.

Slumping is not so bad if you do it CONSCIOUSLY as a rest for a minute or two, versus hours at a time. You can also rest your back muscles by rolling your spine forward over your legs, hanging your head and breathing into your back. Even better, take a break and lie on your back in Constructive Rest for 5 to 15 minutes.

Leaning back on the chair is fine if you feel tired. It helps if the chair back does not also lean back, because then you will be likely to push your head forward to see what you are doing. You can prop yourself up against the chair back by placing a pillow under your shoulder blades and upper back (vs. supporting the lumber spine). This also helps create a little traction between the top of the pelvis and the lower ribs, which stretches out the low back.

In any position, it always helps to give your AT directions: “Let my neck be free, to let my head float up so that the back of my neck is long, to let my spine lengthen and my back widen, to let my knees direct away from my hips, to let my heels go down, to let my shoulders expand to the sides…”

For further help, contact your local Alexander Technique teacher!

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.

*Credit to biomechanist Katy Bowman for popularizing this image taken from, “World Distribution of Certain Postural Habits, Gordon W. Hewes, American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 57, No. 2, Part 1 (Apr., 1955), pp. 231-244

Amoeba Party – a.k.a. Actor Grad School

Lie on the floor and pretend you are a single cell. Roll, flow, seek and react with your entire cell membrane. Remember you have no bones, no eyes, no brain and no parts. You are one.

We usually introduce the amoeba exercise* to our acting M.F.A. students in their second semester. They’ve had five months of Alexander Technique. They understand the central concepts of inhibition, direction, primary control, the force of habit and faulty sensory perception. They can locate their atlanto-occipital joint and they know the fundamentals of skeletal anatomy. They are aware of when they are using themselves with habitual tension and they know how to redirect their energy to find more ease. But all of this knowledge can make students a little stilted, and a little too intellectual.

In contrast, wholeness within a fluid morphology is our reality. Fluidity is easier to grasp when we remember that muscle tension is maintained by habit, not by a property of the muscles. Our bones float suspended in a web of connective tissues, and the connective tissues themselves change from a solid state to a gel, depending on force and heat.  Like taffy, if you pull sharply on connective tissue it will harden and snap, but if you warm it and work it with smooth broad pressure it will stretch. Your nose is connective tissue. So is your Achilles tendon. So is much of the rest of you.

Although we have heads and tails, eyes and brains, bones and nerves, mouths and anuses, we are still much more liquid and continuous than we might imagine. What happens in your big toe just might affect your shoulder.

The amoeba, as it turns out, is a good metaphor for embodying fluidity and wholeness. And it doesn’t hurt that amoebas have no brains.

*I learned the Amoeba exercise from my teacher Frank Ottiwell.


Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.








Inspiring Podcasts about Movement & Health

2014 has been marked by learning, study and inspiration, all stimulated by the discovery of The Liberated Body Podcast. Host Brooke Thomas is the Terry Gross of the Podcast world. Through Brooke, I have been introduced to a world-wide community of somatic researchers. Thank you Brooke!

A few high points include:

  • Interviews with Tim Anderson and Geoff Neupert, founders of “Original Strength.” Their thesis is the same as F.M. Alexander’s: “If we master head control, then we master balance, posture, and coordination.” You might find yourself rolling on the floor like an infant after listening to them!
  • The discovery of Matthew Remski’s WAWADIA project (a.k.a. What Are We Really Doing in Asana). This is a must for anyone who has ever questioned alignment cues in yoga.

Then there is Jules Mitchell’s scientific investigation of stretching, Katy Bowman’s examination of the effects of mechanical force on cellular health, and Gary Ward’s expertise with walking. There are just too many interesting interviews to describe. You’ll have to check them out for yourself.

One caveat: not everyone interviewed has a firm foothold in science, let alone critical thinking. A particularly painful example of credulity is the interview with Carolyn McMakin, titled, The Resonance of Repair.

If you, like me, quickly burned through all of the Liberated Body, you might also like:

  • Yoga and Beyond, with Ariana Rabinovitch – very similar to the Liberated Body, but obviously, with more emphasis on yoga.
  • Move Smart Podcast Although this podcast is oriented towards guys, with many interviews devoted to male-dominated concerns such as body building, there’s still plenty of good information for anyone who loves intelligent movement. You might start in the middle with episode 013, an interview with circus artist Lewie West titled,  “Never Waste an Injury.”
  • Katy Says – interviews with popular Biomechanist Katy Bowman. Although the patter between host and guest can be grating, the podcast offers many tips for bringing a more varied diet of movement (versus exercise) into our lives.
  • When I get tired of thinking about bodies, I turn to Ginger Campbell’s technically intricate Brain Science Podcast.
  • When I need guidance on how to live with less stress, pain and negativity, I tune into psychologist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach.
  • When I need my mind blown open, I listen to Buddhist teacher Reginald Ray.
  • I would be remiss if I failed to plug the one and only podcast devoted to the incredible Alexander Technique! Check out the Body Learning Podcast.

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.

Practice tip: Imagine yourself into length

Think upAlexander Technique uses the power of the mind to guide physical change. Where our thought goes, our body tends to follow. You can relax into effortless spinal length by using your imagination. You don’t need to do anything muscularly.

1. Imagine the head delicately nodding yes to clear the space at the back of the neck and lift the crown towards the sky.

2. Imagine the upward direction of the spine and head.

3. Imagine the outward direction of the collarbones. Sometimes it helps to picture a glowing jewel on your sternum, so that the space in the front of the chest expands. Avoid arching the spine or lifting the ribs.

4. Imagine the arms gently spiraling open. This will help free and clear the shoulders.

The directional thought should be so light that it causes no strain. If you try too hard, you will experience tension. When this happens, stop. Take a break to calm and quiet yourself. Then practice with a lighter attitude.

Usually, it takes a teacher’s touch to understand direction on a sensation level. For now, you can imagine your body as free flowing water. Prioritize a sense of upward flow through the central axis of the head and spine.

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.