Q & A: Should I take your next group class at Berkeley Rep, or should I sign up for a private lesson?

Next group class starts May 7, at Berkeley Rep School of Theatre ($140)

Q: I’m currently a dancer, and am also a graduate student. I have trouble breathing when dancing, trouble with alignment (chronic low back pain), and extra (fidgety-type) movement habits.

Since I am a student, and budget is important at this point, I’m curious if you might recommend signing up for your 5-week class at Berkeley Rep? Or would it be better to come see you for a private lesson?

A: I think the class at Berkeley Rep would be a really good option for you. Alexander Technique is about changing habits. It takes time to form habits, and it takes some time to unlearn habits. A single lesson might be eye-opening, but I think you would improve more by studying consistently for 5-weeks in the group class.

As a dancer myself, I know how critical it is to address alignment and tension in order to have clear and beautiful technique. Also, I think you might find the stress management component of the Alexander Technique helpful as you move through a challenging graduate program.

I do offer 1/2 hour lessons which is another lower cost option, but again, I think you would gain a lot by attending the group class.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if if you have any questions!

With love and lightness,

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.

a few Tango Escuela notes

In Tango Escuela last night, what I was dealing with was the nuts and bolts of follower’s technique:

That is, walking and waiting.

These notes are mostly relevant for followers, and more so for people like me with bowed legs and bunions. The bowed legs make bringing my knees together extra hard, and the bunion causes the big toe, the main source of support, to derail inward leaving an empty space where I am to step.

If I activate my fibularis longus (formerly know as peroneus longus), which has the sensation of a slight inward rotation of the calf muscles, my bowed legs spiral into straightness, my arches lift, my feet activate and get springy, and my big toes, while not exactly straightening, move a little more into the line of support.

For stepping, Amy Lincoln used the analogy of a mop (the stringy type). Your body is the pole, which as you lower down causes the mop strings to fan out. The fanning strings represent your free leg, which drops down, out, and away from your axis. But it doesn’t go far. The sensation is that the gesturing leg is weighted and reaching towards the floor. It can go in any direction (in your tango box). Meaning, it can go forward, sideways, or backwards. The spiral ocho steps are an illusion of your hips and torso. The spatial direction respects your box.

This sounds easy, but I struggled with doing too much with my free leg (mop strings only spread so far). The look of extension does not come from the free leg. The extended line is created by pushing off the standing leg.

I struggled with the paradox of being an active follower:

The follow, I, must collect and wait. At the first whisper of an impulse, I am to allow the mop string leg to extend with energy, but also quietly towards the earth. At the second impulse, I am to step with energy, pushing from the ground to execute the led step.  This is the basics of walking technique. Yet after many years, the wires are still crossed.

When I try to be an active follower (that is, providing 100% of my energy and “opinion” to the dance), my habit is to rush and I often do steps that haven’t been led. When I attempt to rein it in and follow clearly, my energy drops, and I often miss leads because I’m too hesitant.

When one of my leaders kindly pointed out my issues, I felt a flash of irritation. But I knew he was right, and managed to listen and learn. (Every relationship lesson can be practiced in tango).

Similarly, I was struggling with misunderstandings about my hip rotation. Do I always get my hips perpendicular to the leader, creating sharp angles and precision, or is my degree of hip rotation something that is led? My understanding, as of last night, is sharp angles.

From the previous classes, I felt better energy in my upper body, a firmer, more, “bus wheel” like embrace, more connections with my hands, and a better sense of the floor to ceiling spirals through the legs. Also, for once, my Alexander Technique primary control seemed to be kicking in, and I seemed to be able to control my balance from my head.

What did we do in class? An unusually complicated combination (Santiago and Amy tend to focus on the basics) with a bunch of sacadas. This presented major challenge to the leaders, who have to set it all up.

The evening finished with a little glad insight into using the gesturing leg to aid balance. From modern dance, I have a habit of thinking I need to avoid dragging my feet on the floor. But in tango, the gesturing leg can glide along the floor and help with balance as it reaches out like a tentacle gathering information into the body. Mind you, there’s no weight on the free leg. But the sensitive contact with the floor is just one more bit of kinesthetic feedback to aid my teetering high-heeled stance, and compensate for my “missing” big toe.



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: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kripalu/loving-kindness-meditation_b_3961300.html


Yes We Can Sit – Comfortably on hard marble floors

Alexander Technique on the Left, Feldenkrais on the Right, yoga all around

Alexander Technique on the Left, Feldenkrais on the Right, yoga all around

Last Thursday I ventured out the the Asian Art Museum in SF to meet some friends. I didn’t know that I was going to spend an hour sitting on cold marble floors chanting, “Om Namah Shivaya.”

Luckily, I have the Alexander Technique up my sleeve. In other words, I have the secret power to make myself comfortable in any situation. My friend to my left is a Feldenkrais practitioner. He’s also sitting easily. Somatic disciplines, like the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais give you the skills to be aligned and relaxed whenever you want. All you have to do is think about it.

And yes, despite the cold, the Asian Art Museum – housed in a gorgeous Beaux Arts style building that was once the SF Main Library – is one of the best places to practice Alexander Technique in the City.

For added fun, try imitating/embodying the statues