The Use of The Self

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I’ve suffered for years as a teacher trying and failing to teach a form (i.e. the FM Alexander Technique). After spending a week with my nose buried in a pile of books in the hopes of creating a Somatics course syllabus for a batch of unsuspecting SFSU students, the insight that I lacked for the previous 13 years suddenly arrived. It’s not about teaching people a technique, it’s about teaching people – moreover, the skills to notice and work with themselves. When this is done, there’s no need to entertain in the teaching room. Massive amounts of energy are saved.

This is so obvious that I’m sure you already knew it and are wondering at my density. If you had asked, I would have said that I knew it to be true, and was of course already working in this way, but it is only in this weeks of flu and fever dreams, reading page upon page of creative bursts from a pantheon of pioneering thinkers, that I have finally put my finger on the pulse of my own rigidity. I see you, my perfectionist self.

When I think back to lessons with Frank Ottiwell, every moment was fascinating. Intensely so. Time both sped up and slowed down. The light in his studio was special rendering the leaves on the potted tree extra sharp. Of course, we students were all trying desperately to learn something about Frank (He eats Oatmeal!!!!). But he kept your attention pinned to the subject at hand, the Use of the Self, or really yourself. (Let’s admit in this social media performance of life, that we are all self-fascinated). Somehow for those precious 40-minutes he managed to stay interested in us as well, or at least our mighty human struggle with habit, and the rare flashes of unfettered intelligence. Any artifice would be harshly (but not unkindly) brushed away. We worked incredibly hard to fall off the precipice of doing into non-doing. Frank taught the Alexander Technique, but he was really teaching us about the ourselves.

I might have finally learned this from him.

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is The Active Ingredient

Body Project Blog ~ Where Thought is The Active Ingredient

According to Jane Brody, the NY Times Well Columnist, Posture Affects Standing, and Not Just the Physical Kind

Body Project Blog ~ Where thought is the active ingredient, by Elyse Shafarman

“A distraught wife begged me to write about the importance of good posture…” So begins Jane Brody’s most recent NY Times Well column, Posture Affects Standing, and Not Just the Physical Kind.

Brody outlines the usual problems that lead to poor posture, i.e. stress and bad furniture (car seats, iPhones and heavy bags), and she runs through the usual solutions, don’t slouch, tuck or over straighten the natural curves of your spine, and if this is difficult, sign up for a course of core training to strengthen all those tired muscles that have forgotten how to do their natural job. But Brody misses the one technique that solves it all, that ties together our modern thirst for mindful awareness and our basic human desire to live without pain, i.e. The Alexander Technique.

I encourage everyone who wants to learn how to stand effortlessly, with good posture and zero fatigue or pain to run to their nearest Alexander Technique teacher. Don’t hesitate. Now is the time to sign up for a course of lessons. To find a teacher in your area, visit The American Society for the Alexander Technique website.

Alexander Technique is a set of skills that helps all people, regardless of age, health status or physical fitness, be comfortable in their bodies. All the basic movements of life – sitting, standing, walking and sleeping become easy again.

Even better, the Alexander Technique does not require that you set aside extra time in your busy life. It’s a handy form of mindfulness that can be practiced in the midst of everything – while standing in line, idling in traffic, making lunch for your kids, sitting in meetings, riding your bike, or even reading this blog.

And, the Alexander Technique is not purely physical. It will help you understand the link between your thoughts, emotions and muscle tensions. You will grow in self awareness.

While we can’t always have perfect furniture or perfectly amenable circumstances, once we learn the Alexander Technique we always have the power to be comfortable and at peace in our own skin.

To learn more about the Alexander Technique feel free to contact me for a complimentary 15 minute phone consultation 415-342-6255

 

Why Study Alexander Technique?

10487410_10204190998279179_5402076236014725919_nJoy!

Many people come to the Alexander Technique because of pain. The Alexander Technique is an effective tool for overcoming pain. You learn how to align your body and reduce pressure on inflamed tissues and joints. You learn how to move efficiently and avoid further damage. You learn how to calm your nervous system and exit the positive feedback cycle of pain, stress and more pain. Alexander Technique is one of the few alternative health modalities whose beneficial effects on back pain have been verified by a large-scale randomized controlled trial (BMJ 2008;337:a884).

But, I never came to Alexander Technique for pain.

I studied Alexander Technique, because like FM Alexander, I was passionate about an art form. He wanted to act. I wanted to dance. After an Alexander lesson my dance technique was infinitely better in ways that no amount of stretching or diligent work in dance class ever approached. Through Alexander Technique, the chronic tension in my neck, shoulders and spine released. My hip joints were magically free. My balance was effortless. My jumps floated. My turns never stopped. My creativity flowed.

I was also always very curious about psychology and the relationship between what you think, how you feel, and how you move. Alexander Technique was the key to that invisible link between thought, impulse and action.

Why study Alexander Technique?

  • To perform at your peak
  • To perfect your art
  • To discover Joy in your body

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient!

 

*Photo by Holly Glenn Whitaker

The Alexander Technique is About Absence of Conflict

Today, it seems as though the Alexander Technique is about absence of conflict in the body and in the mental-emotional landscape. I suppose I’m thinking about peace, poise and equanimity, but it feels more subtractive than additive. For a short period today, the usual struggle with everything went missing.

My bones were not arguing with gravity. My head and heart were not resisting the world. Absence of struggle did not mean absence of caring. I did not feel passive. I was no longer wasting energy arguing with reality, so I had more energy to make changes.

In the moment, the changes were only in my own use, that is, how I was carrying myself. But it seemed like I might be able to carry this new spacious attitude into relationships or even political acts.

In San Francisco, we are experiencing an eerily beautiful, sunny and dry winter. It’s hard not to worry about climate change. Can I stay internally quiet in the face of an uncomfortable truth? Can I act from that place?

Something like that. Very difficult to explain passing states of consciousness.

Body Project Blog: Where Thought is the Active Ingredient.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entanglement

Hands on direction from Betsy Polatin

Entrainment Chain via Alexander Technique hands. Photo by Jordana del Feld

Students often wonder how the light touch of an Alexander Technique teacher can communicate so much. Simultaneously, you might experience a wave of relaxation, an emotional sense of being seen and accepted for exactly who you are. Suddenly your breath becomes easy and your spine seems to grow tall. When you move to walk around the room, you feel inflated with helium.

You might ask the teacher what they are doing with their hands. They might say something like, “I’m having a conversation with your nervous system,” or, “I’m seeing your potential, and I’m projecting that,” or as Marj Barstow famously proclaimed, “Just a little bit of nothing.” It’s true that Alexander Teachers spend three years learning to communicate through a form of touch that is empty, yet energetically directed. But perhaps the reason students experience so much through so little lies in the way that we, as a species, entrain with each other.

Physical entrainment, on the extreme edge of the spectrum, can show up as a neurological disorder called mirror touch. In mirror touch a person feels the detailed body sensations of other people. For example, as a friend chews food, you might feel unwelcome sensations in your own mouth. However, a lesser degree of entrainment is quite normal, and is probably related to species survival and social intelligence. When people gather together, breath rate, heart rate and movement pace all synchronize. As we converse, our faces automatically match expressions, and our emotions follow. One is left wondering if a feeling stems from within or is absorbed via emotional contagion.

Physical entrainment might explain how the light non-manipulative Alexander touch can do so much. For a more detailed exploration of this phenomenon, listen to the new podcast Invisibilia – Entanglement To experience effortless improvements in movement and posture, contact an Alexander Technique teacher.

 

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.

What is the Alexander Technique?

Alexander Technique is a scientifically verified and cost effective method for solving back pain (BMJ 2008;337:a884).

Alexander Technique and acting

Out walking on this unusually warm night in San Francisco, thinking about the Alexander Technique in relation to acting.

Although the Alexander Technique can give you a marvelous sense of calm and harmony, the point is not calm. The point is to allow who you are to show up without the protective mask of habitual tension. Calm might not be in the equation. Courage certainly is, since it’s quite vulnerable to unmask, even if unmasked you are actually stronger. And then, in character you are putting a whole new mask on, but one that is not limited by your person’s habits of self-protection.

Or so it all seems to me on this warm evening in Noe Valley, with city lights and the whisper of breeze.

expectations automatically affect actions

“Knowledge and expectations automatically affect action. Changing habits to produce more efficient coordination requires addressing its underlying mechanisms, which depend on our ideas. … This is markedly different from using ones existing ideas to simply perform different movements.”

Science and Alexander Technique
, by Tim Cacciatore,
Direction. Vol 2, No. 10, August, 2005

This is where the Alexander Technique differs from a method of postural correction. We are not about re-aligning our bodies. We are about re-aligning our beliefs and expectations about how much effort it takes to perform movements, and how much effort it takes to live.

This is also where the technique can suddenly spark to life. We are not so much dealing with moving this bone here, and releasing this tense muscle there, but examining our entire approach to life. Suddenly we see who we are, and all the extra work we add on to the already difficult prospect of being human.

The solution becomes marvelously simple — although not necessarily easy. We are released from the specifics of trying to figure out our coordination. We can leave all that complicated work to the various motor control systems in our brains.

Our concern is noticing and choosing.

That is, noticing our beliefs about what it takes to get from here to there, and noticing our anticipatory tension.  We get to pick and choose what we want to take on. Suddenly we have a range of options, and one of them includes less anxiety and less work.  Then we have the happy prospect of allowing events to unfold without our interference.

This is where all the surprises are.

This is where the joy lies.