Long Enough

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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

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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)—-

 

 

Applesauce

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Standing at the kitchen counter, I survey the assembled: crock pot, cutting board and paring knives, a large silver bowl for scraps. A motley pile of apples drains in the colander. Not the beautiful orbs purchased in local orchards this time of year, our farm apples are un-sprayed and untended, leaving them much enjoyed by birds and yes, worms. This means plenty of slicing and dicing around imperfections. But, oh, my. The good bits are so good. Tart and sweet all at once.

With vats of apples to process, I can get ahead of myself. This is known in Alexander Technique parlance as ‘End-Gaining.’ Charging to the finish line, so to speak, with nary a thought for how best to get there.  This means my wrists hurt, the right hand thumb tight and unhappy from an awkward repetitive motion, until I make the choice to notice.

The noticing is termed ‘Inhibition,’ the pause in the midst of habit. Next is ‘Directions.’  Gentle guidance. ‘Let the hand fan outward.’ Ulna and little finger aligned. So simple, this kindness to oneself.

Thank you, Mr. Alexander.

(photo courtesy of pixabay)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting It Right

 

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Trying is only emphasizing the thing we know… let go of the wrong thing, and the right thing does itself.      F. M. Alexander

Me: Alright, Mr. Alexander, I will try. Oops. I mean, I will ‘let go of the wrong thing.’

FM: Yes, and the right thing does itself.

Me: ‘The right thing does itself‘? Does that mean do nothing?

FM: Well, yes, but it doesn’t mean that nothing will happen.

Me:  Is this a zen koan? I’m confused.

FM: If you do what I did, you can discover what I discovered. Explore. Think. Apply thought to use.

(OK, then. Here’s an exploration: Sitting in my desk chair, I observe a thigh grip as I type this imaginary conversation between Mr. Alexander and myself. While quitting with the ‘grip,’ my feet seemingly move of their own accord, sliding back toward the chair legs, thereby relieving the thighs of their grip.)

Me: How was that, Mr. Alexander? Did I get it right?

FM: No. The right thing did itself, which is much different from getting it right. You did not do the right thing. You did not DO. Congratulations.

Dear Readers: Make of your daily life a laboratory, and play with all the possibilities for moving in new ways—-

 

Laundry

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Clothes washed, dried, folded and returned to closets and drawers, all while composing a blog post, writing Pelotonia donation thank you notes, reading student assignments, finishing up today’s class preparations, and making travel plans for a September Pittsburgh trip.

And while a busy day benefits from a few minutes (or more) of Constructive Rest, we cannot remove ourselves from the day’s business for very long. That leaves us with the challenge of being at ease even in the midst of crossing off items on the To-Do List.

This is the very place where the practice of Alexander Technique principles are to be  practiced and applied, right in the middle of it all.

Example:  I’m standing at the open washing machine, trying to get the last little squidge of detergent out of the bottle. To that end (End-Gaining, indeed!), I catch myself leaning my entire body to the side, along with the over-turned bottle, as if shifting my weight will coax out the last dribbles. I’m uncomfortable. This is when I could mentally slap myself on the wrist, but no. Instead, it’s a rueful laugh, and back to weight on both feet.  Now at ease, I can wait for the remains of the detergent bottle to empty.

Learning the Alexander Technique is not about acquiring perfect posture, or flawless Use of Self. No. It’s about observing Self, and either choosing to continue as we are, or to make a new choice for how we wish to respond and react to the present moment.

 

 

 

Whitman

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My OSU predecessor had this advice for the first week of classes:

Inhibit like crazy.’

To those unfamiliar with Alexander-Technique-Speak, that advice may sound crazy indeed. I received it as a nugget of wisdom, and Dale’s three words echoed a Walt Whitman quote I happened across recently, an excerpt from his poem, Song of Myself:

Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it…..I witness and I wait.’

Witness? Wait? I have teaching goals to achieve, knowledge to impart, so much that needs to be said and done. Nope. Wait, Diana. Be a witness. And as Dale went on to say, it’s in the teacher’s inhibiting, (i.e.-waiting, witnessing), that the student can engage in self-discovery. It’s where real learning happens. The teacher creates the conditions for explorations, and the rest is up to the student.

In FM Alexander’s experience, ‘inhibition’ came to mean the conscious decision not to direct a process toward a given end.’

That’s Pamela Payne Lewis, from her 1980 Carnegie-Mellon University dissertation, The Alexander Technique: Its Relevance for Singers and Teachers of Singing. As a young teacher, I received extensive training in the very task of directing a process toward a given end. And then in mid-life came my Alexander teacher-training coursework, which was devoted not to the achieving of goals, but to the means-whereby all wishes, wants, and goals could be pursued.

An essential component of teaching the Alexander Technique well, the practice of inhibition has on-going application for living a life well, too. And so I will grasp the steering wheel lightly as I commute through crowded city streets, inhibiting contraction and grip in response to the traffic, until eventually and surely, I find myself strolling into the hallowed halls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under Duress

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Recovery from Monday’s eye surgery has been slow, thanks to a cold virus exacerbating irritated and swollen eyes, and an allergic reaction to antibiotic ointment. The itch so itchy it’s painful? Here’s what I did to get through the week. Alexander Technique students, you know the Procedures

First, observe habitual response. This week’s responses were a minute-by-minute attempt to get away from unpleasant sensations. Eye drops, dabbing and rubbing of eyes, and a good dose of catastrophic thinking—‘This will never end! I’ll be in misery the rest of my days.’

Having observed responses, Pause. Or Inhibit, if you prefer Mr. Alexander’s terminology. How does one pause when hurting? Watch the discomfort with a dispassionate mind. ‘Oh, yes, there’s a streak of pain along the outer rim of left eye.‘ Noted. Mere observation is often enough to restore a bit of ease and comfort, and so it was for me and my eyes.

Continue with Directions. Having acknowledged that all my attention was with one detail of my physical experience, i.e.–unhappy eyes, I chose a prompt, often ‘Whole body, whole world.‘ With inclusive awareness, I noticed the space around my body, the room in which I was writhing, and the garden beyond, where the stargazer lilies were blooming in profusion.

On several occasions, with this practice, I was able to rest deeply and even to fall asleep. And other times my eyes just itched more, and it was on to the eye drops. Keep in mind, Alexander Technique procedures are not about fixing what’s wrong, but doing what we can to integrate mind with body, in service of greater ease and optimal function.

No need to wait for agony. Perhaps there’s a slight crick in your neck from reading this post. Practice the Procedures!

 

Behold

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Diane Ackerman, in her 2008 book, Dawn Light:  ‘Here only this once and never again, I want to stop ten times a day, stop whatever I’m saying or doing, and behold the human pageant with its uncountable dramas…’

Stop. Behold. And in the pause between, something new can happen, in our bodies and in our minds. That pause, termed Inhibition by Mr. Alexander,  is a primary practice of the Technique. When Ackerman stops, the world expands beyond her words and actions; she includes in her thinking ‘the human pageant.’

Here’s a way to work with The Pause, courtesy of Barbara Conable, from  her book, How to Learn the Alexander Technique:

‘Whenever you notice that you have cut out half your experience by losing awareness either of yourself or of your world, simply open attention to the other half.’ 

Example: Tornado sirens sounded several times around midnight as rain pounded on the roof and lightning lit up the bedroom ceiling.  Our little corner of the world was spared, but nearby, in the Dayton area, tornadoes caused extensive damage in the night. Scrolling for news feeds and watching videos of the aftermath, I finally noted my attention was exclusively on the computer screen and entirely with the anguish of those being interviewed. Hmm. ‘Open attention to the other half,’ Barbara advises. In this example, the ‘other half’ is me. Sit bones contacting chair seat. Right foot crossed over left. Cork floor in contact with sole of left foot. Returned to myself while also taking in the dramatic reports of the storms.

Your turn! It goes both ways. Ackerman opened her attention to the world, and I needed to open mine to myself. Ten times a day is her wish, but I’d be happy for you and me to stop and behold just once or twice today. Be safe, heed those sirens, and practice The Pause–

 

 

 

Constructive Use

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UN-constructive use—

Poise and Presence is three years old. With the exception of a hiatus in 2018, weekly posts have been the norm.  Readers appreciate knowing there will be a little something from Poise and Presence on a regular basis, and the routine of getting a post ready each week provides me with an on-going opportunity to practice Constructive Use. Three Alexander Technique principles are required: Awareness, Inhibition, Direction.

First, I cultivate an awareness of my physical self, a kinesthetic sense of what it is like at any given moment to be living in a body. Secondly, having noted I am more than a mind, I practice Inhibition, which requires me to pause, observe a habit of use, and see what might emerge if I just quit doing what I habitually do to write a post, (i.e.—pull legs back and under the chair, applying undue pressure to my toe joints, contract my arms in toward my torso, thereby reducing my width and diminishing breathing capacity.)

Having activated my kinesthetic sense, pausing/stopping to note a habit of use, I can then give my Self what Mr. Alexander termed Directions. His: ‘I allow my head to move forward and up, that my spine may lengthen and my torso widen.’ Mine: ‘long spine,’ or ‘length and width.’

This is Constructive Use of the Self, a way of thinking in activity which benefits our well-being. And when you find yourself with a few unscheduled minutes, I recommend Constructive Rest. It’s the practice of resting thoughtfully, altering our relationship to gravity by lying down in semi-supine, lengthening and widening.

Constructive Use AND Constructive Rest are essential components of an Alexander Technique practice. Take your pick!

Feelin’ Groovy

 

Paul Simon, backstage with Stephen Colbert, tells him the tune is ‘naive,’ and not appropriate for 2017. ‘I don’t like it,’ he added. And having watched a 1982 Central Park concert video of Simon and Garfunkel performing The 59th Street Bridge Song, I believe him. They were tepid at best, seeming to force themselves through it, while the crowd roared. I’m with the crowd.

Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last, just—skippin’ down the cobblestones, lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy.’

Feelin’ Groovy takes me back to days when all was new and fresh and everything was possibility. I’ve been hearing it in my mind’s ear this spring, most likely due to thinking about haste vs. hurry, and perhaps as antidote to a sobering American political era. Colbert changed-up the lyrics, and a few belly laughs later, I was glad to have found this present-day twist on an old favorite.

Slow down, you move too fast.‘ That was me years ago, and not much has changed with age. Now, although fingers will not zip those zippers nearly so quickly, and opening cans is a monumental chore, I still strive mightily for speed. Anything less is an annoyance, an affront.

Taking to heart the song lyrics, I’m choosing* to make my way through this day reveling in spring glory in the midst of tasks, pausing** between each one to sing, ‘Life, I love you. All is groovy.’

*Choice: a primary practice of the Alexander Technique. Having observed our habits of use, we can choose what to keep and what to change. 

**The Pause: Also called ‘Inhibition,’ it’s the space between stimulus and response. In the interval, the AT practitioner has options, i.e.–choice, much preferable to a ‘knee-jerk reaction.’