The Space Between

yellow-1437792_640

Dear OSU Students: We have yet to meet. I am preparing a place for us—-a place to be, to learn, to explore the Alexander Technique. And yes, we will do so online, in Flatland. Looking forward to meeting you there soon, Diana McC.

This week, it’s online meetings with Alexander Technique colleagues, as we negotiate the parameters of online teaching/learning.  Asked to gaze softly on the little squares holding colleagues’ faces, my eyes fill with tears. Relieved to be with them figuring this out, compassion for the world in a pandemic, affection. I learned the Technique in community, and a recurring theme of yesterday’s workshop was how to create fellow-feeling, safety and support online, so that our new students, too, can learn in connection to others.

Much of Alexander Technique teacher training is about giving students the space they need, learning not ‘to fix,‘ but ‘to be with‘ and assist in the student’s discovery of  body/mind integration. We spend countless hours learning how to teach with our hands, which for me, was mostly about learning how to be with my students by not imposing my will, my agenda, my Teacher-Self onto them.

How about re-writing My-Story-of-the-Pandemic, suggested by Tommy Thompson in the opening workshop session?  Instead of giving my attention and energy to the confinements of online AT teaching, I might consider the space between us as a gift, an opportunity allowing for self-discovery and change, both for the students and myself.

Yes, the space between—-here is where we begin—-

 

 

Long Enough

summer-69761_640

Mary Oliver ends Such Silence with:

I sat on the bench, waiting for something.

An angel, perhaps. Or dancers with the legs of goats.

No, I didn’t see either. but only, I think, because

I didn’t stay long enough.

Morning coffee in the garden. Mike and I are about to move inside and get our respective days up and running. We pause, and here comes the hummingbird, whom we had been hoping to see. Settling back into our chairs, a pair of songbirds light in the dogwood which wraps the gazebo’s west side. One of them explores the latticework along the screen, a mere 2 feet from us, the gazebo serving as a blind. Its throat trembles with a melody, and Mike says, ‘If you wait, they will come,’ a twist on a line from Field of Dreams:  ‘If you build it, he will come.’

And next, three goldfinches. Following their swooping and chirping path above the garden, the moon about to set comes to our attention. Glory be.

Stay long enough today. Practice the Alexander Technique Pause.

Bending

rascals-211556_640

It’s Week 5 of my online Alexander Technique course pilot, and this week’s Thinking-in-Activity lesson is Bending. To begin, let’s find our middles. A standard habit of thought is to consider the ‘middle’ of the body to be somewhere around the belly button. Nope. Re-mapping is required if this is how you think about middle.

The mid-place of our body’s structure is at the hip joints. Now that’s another body mapping challenge, as we often think of the iliac crest as our hips. Nope. They form the pelvis, and the pelvic bowl. Keep going. Hip joints are further down.

The best way to find hip is to stand with thumbs along the crease that forms when you lift your leg up from the knee, like a prancing horse. That’s the locale of the hips, and believe it or not, it is also the mid-point of your body. Legs/feet  are the same length as head/torso.

Now, back to bending. We bend, most efficiently, ease-fully, and comfortably, when we move from the hips, NOT the imaginary waist. We are multi-jointed and move at joints. Hips, knees, ankles.

Drop a pen on the floor and before picking it up, employ Alexander Technique thinking: Observe Self. (Note your impulse to pick up the pen, without thought.) Inhibit/Pause. (Don’t pick it up. Just stand there.) And finally, Direct: ‘I move back with the pelvis, and forward/over with the head/spine.’

Here’s to healthy and happy bending (see youngsters above)—-

 

 

Gardening

 

abundant, profuse, extravagant, voluminous, plentiful, prolific, lavish, robust

That’s the garden these days. Each morning, weeds are pulled, branches trimmed, the bird bath refreshed. These mundane tasks, surprisingly, give joy. How so? For one, I am outside. All is lush and lovely. (See above vocabulary list.) Also, utilizing Alexander Technique principles means I get to be in the present moment while also in the garden.

Here’s how: Bending, I am both The Puller-of-the-Weeds, and The Observer. As such, I can consider the ‘means-whereby’ the weeds get pulled. Perhaps less force in yanking of  stems?

Less effort worked for a patch with loose soil and shallow roots, but now I am on to a section with deeper rooted weeds. Now what? Noting my response to the more strenuous requirement, I pause, returning to standing. Considering what might be most ‘mechanically advantageous,’ hips are invited to move back as my head and spine travel up and over.

And here am I. Just here. By giving thought, care, and attention to the ‘how’ of the task at hand, I am nowhere else. What a gift, this returning, over and over again, to Self-Awareness,  Inhibition (The Pause), and Direction (Choice). The Big Three of an Alexander Technique practice.

It doesn’t have to be a garden where the Alexander Technique intersects with daily life. But I certainly wish for you a beautiful bloom this glorious day—-

‘May I have a word?’

dictionary-698538_640

allow

pause

embrace

settle

permit

regard

receive

Select one and allow it speak to you. Less is more.  This list consists of words I find myself using when teaching the Alexander Technique. The less I say, the better. Pausing helps to keep me from talking too much. Students have their own discoveries to make.

Less is more. It’s a practice to embrace in everyday life. Less furniture means more space. One can settle into the surroundings with peace. Less household spending permits more funds for travel. Less indulgence of sweets means a healthier regard for the digestive system.

One word only. Choose yours and live with it for a day, receiving its gifts.

(Image by StockSnap on pixabay. Thanks!)

 

 

 

Choose

thinker-28741_640

Choices. They are made countless times each day. When to get up, what to wear, make the coffee or purchase on the way? And then there are the big choices, a life partner, for example. I chose one 38 years ago, and continue choosing him every day.

The practice of the Alexander Technique is all about choice. We get to choose. We are not automatons, although it sure can feel that way as we plod through the waning days of winter. Try ‘The Procedure,’ an alternative to the trudging habit:

Choose Self-Awareness. (Feet on floor. Head on spine. Where am I possibly tense?)

Choose to Pause. (Often the Pause is enough. Mind/body re-organize. Just stop the habit, whatever it is. Trudging, maybe?)

Choose to Direct. (‘My neck is free.’ Or, ‘I allow my head to move forward and up.‘)

Spring is on the way.  On Sunday morning’s farm walk with Mike, I heard a spring song from a warbler along the west fence row. Add a little AT thinking to your next stroll, and you will find your Self in springtime before you know it—-

Enjoy the Ride

 

child-419440_640

 ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.’

The first written record of this adage is found in an 1840 Thomas H. Palmer Teacher’s Manual. It was popularized in song lyrics by British writer, W. E. Hickson (1803-1870). OSU Alexander Technique students were asked to re-write this time-honored advice, with Mr. Alexander’s principles and practices in mind.

If at first you don’t succeed,

  • you need Constructive Rest.
  • try it differently.
  • remind yourself, the waist is fake-news!
  • correct your body map.
  • release tension and then try again.
  • find another way and know it’s okay.
  • do less.
  • take a lap, or maybe a nap.
  • try it in Monkey.
  • enjoy the ride.

Thanks to: (Sasha, Sara, Garrett), (Srinija, Demetra, Kai), (Jade, Jacob, Max) and (Edie, Alexa, Megan, Yang).

 

 

Move

man-2956377_640

movable—capable of being moved; not fixed in one place, position, or posture.

When first learning the Alexander Technique, it’s a temptation to try holding on to the changes, hoping for a permanent fix to the body’s discomforts. And so, from the beginning, movement is encouraged. We apply the Technique principles to the everyday activities of getting in and out of chairs, walking, stair-climbing, and reaching for objects. We are in motion, and ‘Thinking in Activity.’

The studio itself  invites movement—-the open expanse of floor, south and west windows extending all the way to the high ceiling, the east wall mirrors enlarging an already spacious room. Moving is a happy choice in this space, and we are all about choices in the practice of the Technique. Choosing to move changes our perspective in the moment and yes, can change our very lives.

In these interminable gray January days, get a move on, and observe the effects. It could be as simple as turning your head side-to-side, then up and down, as you work at your computer, noting the ease when you allow for some wiggle room—-

The Egg

20200121_164246

The habitual can be a great comfort. I am a creature of habit and glad of it. Living an ordered life works best for me. However, fresh perception can be a delight, a surprise, an awakening, and often requires a change of habit.

In the practice of the Alexander Technique, we foster change in our habitual use of our Selves,  re-activating our kinesthetic sense, which allows us to be in a state of readiness for what might happen next. A creative impulse, perhaps? A turn of phrase that has been elusive in a writing project?

Twyla Tharp, in her 2003 book, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, offers a series of exercises for cultivation of our creativity, and I’ll be adding one of them, The Egg,* to an OSU Alexander Technique class. Here’s her description:

Egg makes you move. I can’t say enough about the connection between body and mind; when you stimulate your body, your brain comes alive in ways you can’t simulate in a sedentary position.’

Yes! Body/mind Integration. It is this very habit of use we are developing as we learn the Alexander Technique.And then there’s the bonus of vignette’s from Tharp’s life and work. An invigorating read—

*The Egg: Sit on the floor, bring knees to chest, curl head down to knees and make yourself as small as you can. Having become as small as possible, you can only expand. Begin. Move. Occupy a bit more space. See what shapes your body seeks. Observe.

(With thanks to AT student, Michaela, for introducing me to Tharp’s, The Creative Habit.)

 

 

 

Toward

mask-537218_640
Maori Mask

Watching a New Zealand rugby team perform the haka before a match, Paloma finds herself barely breathing in amazement at what she sees on the television screen. In a later journal entry, she writes this:

I’d noticed him right from the start (a Maori player), probably because of his height to begin with but then because of the way he was moving. A really odd sort of movement, very fluid but above all very focused, I mean very focused within himself. Most people, when they move, well they just move depending on whatever’s around them. At this very moment, Maman just went by in the direction of the front door, and you can tell from the way she’s moving; she is headed toward. She’s going out shopping, and in fact she already is out, her movement anticipating itself…when we move, we are in a way de-structured by our movement toward something; we are both here and at the same time not here because we’re already in the process of going elsewhere, if you see what I mean.

To stop de-structuring yourself, you have to stop moving altogether. Either you move and you’re no longer whole, or you’re whole and you can’t move. But that player, when I saw him go out onto the field, I could tell there was something different about him. While the others’ dance gestures went toward their adversaries and the entire stadium, this player’s gestures stayed inside him…and that gave him an unbelievable presence and intensity.

So I watched the game attentively, constantly on the lookout for the same thing: compact moments where a player became his own movement without having to fragment himself by heading towardAnd I saw them! I saw them in every phase of the game: with a player who’d find the right speed without thinking any more about the goal, by concentrating on his own movement and running as if in a state of grace. But none of them came near the perfection of the great Maori player who was running without moving, leaving everyone else behind him.’*

Paloma’sheading toward is Mr. Alexander’s ‘End-Gaining.’ My wish for each of us today is a moment when we are no longer getting ahead of ourselves, and can ‘become our own movement.’ No fragmentation or de-structuring required!  It’s an Alexander-Technique-worthy pursuit—-

*The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery, 2008. Europa Editions, translated from the French by Alison Anderson.

(With thanks to Barbara H., who mentioned Barbery’s book, reminding me I was due for a re-read.)