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!

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.

Metta Meditation & Alexander Technique

Invariably, at some point during the semester, one of my MFA acting students shows up in an Alexander Technique tutorial and says, “I need to learn to meditate.”

I can’t argue with them.

It wasn’t until I learned Metta (Loving kindness)Meditation  that I developed sufficient self-compassion to look at my habits without falling into an unproductive state of shame.

It wasn’t until I began watching my thoughts in Vipassana (Insight) meditation that I gained an inkling into what it might mean to, “not do, not try, not care.”

Meditation gives me the skill to work with my thoughts. Alexander Technique takes these processes to the next step, and looks at the embodiment of thought – but that’s another essay.

For now, I want to talk about how Metta meditation can help you free your neck and expand your body.

Here’s the Metta practice:

May I be safe and protected from inner and outer harm
May I be peaceful and happy
May I be healthy and strong
May I be at ease with the conditions of my life

Traditionally you direct these thoughts to yourself, then a mentor or benefactor, then a dear friend, then a neutral person, then a difficult person, and then the circle can be expanded out to all beings everywhere.

Metta creates the inner climate that allows the neck muscles to release – although please note this is my idea, and has nothing to do with traditional Alexander Technique teachings.

The Metta phrases and the Alexander Technique directions can reinforce each other when thought one after the other. For example:

Metta (M): May I be safe and protected from inner and outer harm
Alexander Technique (AT): Allow my neck to be free

Isn’t neck tension the first thing that happens when we feel threatened? A free neck is almost synonymous with safety.

(M): May I be peaceful and happy
(AT): Allow my head to balance forward and up

Isn’t a poised head the physical expression of peace? I’m imagining a Buddha statue.

(M): May I be healthy and strong
(AT): Allow my back to lengthen and widen

Isn’t an open back that allows the free movement of breath and the decompression of organ systems the expression of “health?”

(M): May I be at ease with the conditions in my life
(AT): Allow my legs to release away from my hip joints, and my shoulders to expand to the sides

Isn’t physical expansion the gesture of ease?

You don’t need to say all the words in the Metta phrases. You can generate the feeling of Metta and project the Alexander Technique directions simultaneously. I encourage you to experiment.

There’s a bi-directional loop between body positions and emotions. We can create the feeling tone of safety, peace, health and ease, from the mind down and from the body up.