A Settled Body

 

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That’s a phrase from Resmaa Menakem,* author of My Grandmother’s Hands. Merely speaking these lovely words——–‘a settled body‘——- finds me resting back into the chair, no longer leaning forward as if preparing for a dive into the computer screen.

As participants in a pandemic and citizens of a country rife with systemic racism, Americans are experiencing ‘collective trauma,‘ a phrase used by the Dance Department Chair during a recent online meeting in describing the faculty, staff, and students. I concur.

Now what? For starters, settling the body. And so we shall, bi-weekly in Alexander Technique class. With settled bodies, vitality is more readily available, and action can be taken with conviction, whether it be to make oneself a cold brew, to engage in activism, or to get that course assignment started.

For Settling: Notice the places of contact between you and any surfaces. Right now, that’s my right heel on smooth wood floor, backs of thighs and sit bones on the chair cushion, the left hand palm resting on the keyboard, all fingerpads in contact with the keys. Eyeglasses can be felt on the bridge of my nose.

I’m settled. That was easy.

It isn’t always. And when it isn’t, be kind and patient with yourself. There’s no end-goal to achieve; even a slight shift in perception and kinesthetic experience is enough to calm, and yes, settle.

*Menachem is a social worker/trauma specialist in Minneapolis, MN. His work is based on the premise that racism affects not only the mind, but is embedded in our bodies. The Alexander Technique being a somatic endeavor, AT teachers are meeting in study groups to explore his ideas for healing and change.

(Thanks to Stephan Schweihofer for the use of his watercolor, courtesy of Pixabay)

 

 

 

What’s It?*

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What’s it going to be? A report on last week’s Alexander Technique workshop? (It was wonderful to be with colleagues from around the world. Thank you, Bob Lada, Debi Adams, and Tommy Thompson, organizers/presenters of, In the Company of Support.) Dismay at fellow citizens ignoring the pandemic? Missing summer vacation(s)? Preparing OSU course?

Questions. They are featured in the semester’s first presentation. What do I say about the question mark? ‘We will cultivate a spirit of inquiry, in the fine tradition of Frederick Mathias Alexander.‘ I add that it’s not so much about finding the ‘right’ answer or the ‘perfect’ posture, and more about exploration and discovery.

Well. I sure have lots of questions going into fall semester. Will the students be challenged by online delivery of the course material? Can we build the community which I consider to be essential for the learning of the Alexander Technique? Will OSU remain free from virus infections and subsequent shut-downs, or will we be confined to online-instruction-only within a couple weeks? (That’s the prediction of several colleagues—)

To all who are anticipating the return to school—-teachers, students, parents, and support staff, I send my best wishes for your safety and for the negotiating of this uncharted territory.

*And with a nod to Mrs. Whatsit, that remarkable creature found in Madeleine L’Engle’s, A Wrinkle in Time. If only we could all fly away on Mrs. Whatsit’s back, as did Charles Wallace, Meg and Calvin.

 

The Space Between

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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—-

 

 

Bending

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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)—-

 

 

Mutual Regard

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Walking along the north perimeter lane, I stop at the sight of a warbler pair, nestled side-by-side on a low-lying tree branch. We regard each other in the quiet, a light breeze between us.

The warblers are well-versed in physical distancing, and we could learn a thing or two from them. Appearing comfortable and at ease, they are also vigilant to my presence, and when I do finally step forward, they twitter lightly, lifting off their perch.

They received me. I had been seen; regarded. This moment brought to mind a long-ago Alexander Technique lesson Mike had with Barbara. He was deeply moved by her presence, and the way in which she received him with respect and calm attention, just as the warblers did with me along the fencerow last week.

Thank you, wee warblers. Thank you, Barbara.

 

 

 

Zoom

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It’s easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence.’

Gianpiero Petriglieri’s* tweet precisely encapsulates my experience teaching on-line Alexander Technique. Prior to the pandemic, the students and I met in a spacious dance studio, cultivating presence with small group engagement, conversation, and movement explorations.

Then, boom. Zoom-Time. Hands-on guidance was replaced with the tap, tap, tapping of fingerpads on the keyboard, and the clicking computer mouse. Students relied solely on their thinking and individual experimentation to improve Use of the Self. I can happily report, they quickly qualified as advanced practitioners of the Technique, ‘advanced’ being defined as able to apply the principles of Inhibition and Direction.

Online learning. Ideal? No. Our delicate and carefully crafted web of connections required proximity, and that we did not have in a Zoom Room. We were at a distance too great. The two-dimensional world of Zoom meant being ‘in the constant absence of each other’s presence,‘ a fatiguing endeavor. Possible? Yes, thanks to a splendid group, and to the initial in-person classes.

To my students, a big ‘thank you’ for your generosity of spirit, willingness to show up on-line and explore what was possible, your faithfulness in maintaining the weekly written assignments, and your sacrifices for the Greater Good, as you Sheltered-in-Place, upending so much—research projects, finances, jobs, and more. I am wishing you well.

*author, speaker, professor at INSEAD (Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires)

 

‘May I have a word?’

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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!)

 

 

 

Enjoy the Ride

 

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 ‘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).

 

 

Gray

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My new winter coat, gray. Leggings and tunic, gray. The Honda I drive, a lavender gray. Overhead, dull gray.

Day after dark day, the sky is a bland blanket draped over trees and rooftops. Fog. Damp. This is the scene in central Ohio. Twice a week, under, you guessed it, gray skies, the OSU Alexander Technique class meets. One day only, the first day of class, did we see a glorious pink and orange sunset out the studio’s west windows.

Night falls as class begins, and this is what we’ve been up to—

Constructive Rest, AT Talks, Thinking-in-Activity (most recently, Arms-on-Back-of-Chair), hands-on lessons. Devoting 180 minutes of one’s week to an AT class is no small commitment. Time is at a premium. The academic demands are many. So when the instructor says, at the conclusion of Constructive Rest, ‘You have all the time you need,’ it can sound clueless, uninformed, and downright impossible.

However. In this moment, you do have all the time you need. Just this breath. In it is the world. The mere typing of those words resulted in me pausing, leaning back into my chair, and sipping water from a waiting glass. Often I  get so ‘busy,’  water glasses can be found all over the house, partly full, all forgotten.

In the grayness, pause. Breathe. Sip. Timeless time.

 

 

Move

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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—-