Have yourself a walk-about, and travel as if you did indeed have eyes in the back of your head. Notice what this thinking does for your inclusive awareness. Cultivation of one’s kinesphere* is integral to utilizing the Alexander Technique, and OSU’s AT class recently did so with a practice I call ‘Find Your Six.’
Include the six directions in your thinking as you move through the day: Below, Above, Beside, Beside, Before, Behind. Or, you could call the six directions: Earth, Sky, East, West, North, South.
*kinesphere: the sphere around the body easily reached while standing, and that moves with the person’s trace-form in space, (trace-form being the spatial consequences of our movement), as defined by movement theorist, Rudolf Laban.
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 moveforward 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!
‘There is a certain kind of heaviness and insulation we can grow used to. The body can feel strange when it inhabits the world in a lighter way, when it encounters a form of happiness or fulfillment for which it has no apprenticeship. A lightness and litheness that gives us a sense of ease, movement and potential….‘
David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea
Where are you on the light-to-heavy scale? And what are your preferences? Do you like the feeling of heaviness and insulation? I sure do in the winter time. After last weekend’s snow/ice storm with below-zero temperatures, venturing out required two layers of socks, a hefty pair of boots, lined pants with leggings underneath, multiple pullovers, coat, hat and hood. Completing this ensemble with bulky black gloves, the total effect reminded me of Ralphie’s brother in A Christmas Story, lurching down the sidewalk on his way to school.
I look forward to summer days of warm breezes, arms and legs bare to the sun, when getting out the door requires nothing more than sliding on a pair of flip-flops. Until then, it’s heavy on the insulation and light in spirit!
Car trips, domestic tasks, writing at my desk, reading a book, laughing in a coffee shop with a friend, all these daily activities are experienced differently when giving some attention to my physical self, inviting length and space. In the midst of this cold snap, as we welcome the heaviness and protection of our winter layers, include a light heart and a few Directions for good use. The phrase I found myself using yesterday was, ‘Lengthened, widened, grounded.’
‘Part of my difficultyis that I am always trying to be right. I must stop this trying to be right, for immediately when I try to be right, I do things wrong (i.e., in the old way that feels right). I must cease this trying to be right.’
That’s Goddard Binkley,in The Expanding Self, a memoir of Binkley’s Alexander Technique training. His journal entry continues:
‘Inhibit this tendency(to try and to be right) and I shall then be free to project the guiding orders, that is to direct my neck to be free, and my head to go forward and up. Moreover, if I can inhibit this tendency, which is so overwhelming, to try and be right, I can then allow nature to assert itself.’
Yes. That. What he said. Quit with the trying. That’s all this Alexander Technique teacher has to say. Just stop with trying so hard. Often the trying has produced the physical tensions and misuse, and merely stopping will be enough to restore ease and poise.
In the span of a mere 48 hours, multiple appliances went on the fritz: dishwasher, washing machine, dehumidifier. And a flat tire on the Honda. Yup. An 800-number scheduling service, waiting on hold, searching files for paperwork; all combined for maximum exasperation. Life can get so darned complicated so fast!
‘The simple bare neccessities of life’ Baloo sings in Disney’s 1967 Jungle Book. His were ‘Old Mother Nature’s recipes’ and included honey and bananas with a few ants thrown in. My bare necessities are: ease in the body, food, shelter, and a daily dose of kindness, both received and given. A working dishwasher, clothes washing machine or dehumidifier not required.
Attention to Alexander Technique principles is a ‘bare necessity’ if you find yourself scrunched down at the computer, gripping the steering wheel on your commute, or suffering lower back discomfort from the week-end’s house-cleaning. ‘Forget about your worries and your strife’ as the lyrics go, and instead, give your attention to the present moment and to how your body is responding to it. Only then is there a possibility of ease and freedom of movement, which Baloo and Mowgli demonstrate with glee as they cavort through the jungle.
Make your good use of Self a necessity, not an item at the end of a to-do list. And may the bare necessities of life be yours today. As Baloo sings, ‘that’s why a bear can rest at ease’-
Nocturnal visitsto the back porch composting toilet often turn into sky watching events, with stars, planets, constellations and occasional flaming meteors streaking above. It is also extraordinary to be up and about when a crescent moon is setting to the west. Its proximity to the horizon enlarges its size as its white brilliance slides under the horizon in utter silence.
As one who appreciates these night-time interludes, I was pleased to find myself in good company on the reading of a Junichiro Tanizaki essay, ‘In Praise of Shadows.’ He devotes two pages to the glories of the Japanese toilet. A quote: ...‘the toilet is the perfect place to listen to the chirping of insects or the song of the birds, to view the moon, or to enjoy any of those poignant moments that mark the change of the seasons. Here, I suspect, is where haiku poets over the ages have come by a great many of their ideas.’*
Mr. Alexander applied the principles of good use to the requirements of daily life: sitting, standing, moving from seated to standing and vice versa, traveling stairs, walking, resting. And to them we can add the middle-of-the-night constitutional.
Notice the beauty wherever you find yourself today. Be present to your Self and your Use. Yes indeed, even in the water closet.
*Tanizaki’s essay can be found in The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from theClassical Era to the Present, editor/Phillip Lopate.
“Debauched kinesthesia.” This is my all-time favorite F.M. Alexander phrase, which he used to explain how unreliable our sense of the physical self can be. When we have spent years in habits of mis-use, our habits will feel right.
When a student first experiences balance, they report feeling too far forward. And yet there they stand, beautifully poised and present. But, this balance isn’t habit, thus it feels wrong.
F.M. was so exasperatedwith this phenomenon, he advocated taking into no account how we feel, and relying solely on Direction (our thinking) to bring us to ease and optimal use.
I’ve concludedthat my thinking AND my kinesthetic sense can both serve in the duties of bringing greater poise and presence.
Notice where you arein this moment, checking in with your kinesthetic sense. Now, add F.M.’s direction:
‘I allow my head to move forward and up, that my spine may lengthen and my torso widen.’
When teaching the Alexander Technique,I often malign the visual sense, accusing it of being way over-developed to the exclusion of other senses, and often to the omission of the kinesthetic sense. But what about using this well-trained sense to assist in returning us to our fully-embodied selves?
A definition is in order. Kinesthesia is our neglected sixth sense, giving us information about our body; its position, size, and movement. Basic kinesthetic distinctions include: tense, free, balanced, unbalanced. It is these qualities which we learn to discern in the practice of the Technique.
A word about the cream and sugar set. I found these sweeties at the West Liberty Labor Day Festival. Wilma and I were trudging back to the parking lot on a sizzling sun-drenched afternoon, having strolled the festival grounds for hours. I was hot. I was tired. I was tense and unbalanced. Along the final stretch of booths, a table of $2 items, on which sat the cream and sugar beauties. The saturated yellow color made me happy. I perked ‘up,’ so to speak. I moved up into length and width, a refreshing boon at the end of the festival day, as restorative as a glass of ice water. Free and balanced.
Yehuda Cooperman, an Alexander Technique teacher living and working in Israel, offered these gems on ‘yellow’ at a Cincinnati AT teacher workshop:
Paint the yellow between you and your student. Before you direct, you must paint, and the painting is by two painters; teacher and student.
Step by step….so she (the student) sees she is supported by yellow.
I have to give myself to those forces, to discover from my pupils, the yellow.
What on earth was he saying with this on-going reference to ‘yellow’? Perhaps he was alluding to the ineffable, the life force that animates. As a Reiki practitioner, I often visualize color moving through my hands, but the colors change, depending on the person in the session and the moment. Yehuda had a powerful association with the particular color of yellow, and used it to good effect in his teaching.
Returning toyour visual sense, let the color of something you see today capture your attention, and allow its vibrance to take you ‘Up.’