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)—-

 

 

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—-

Empty

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Five posts are waiting in the wings, and none of them ready to be published. I’ve tinkered and toyed with each, and will now avert my gaze, and begin again—-

On Saturday, departing for the farm, the book grabbed from the office shelf was 100 Favorite English and Irish Poems. Sitting on the cabin porch in a state of do-less-ness, leafing through the poetry collection in a desultory way, this phrase from William Morris’ poem, ‘An Apology‘ presented itself:

‘The idle singer of an empty day.’

Yes! That’s it! I wish to be an ‘idle singer of an empty day.’ It would seem many of us would do well to aspire to this goal. We, (I), have been altogether too stalwart in our attempts to live in a world turned upside-down with the pandemic. How about giving the efforts a rest?

As I write in the sunroom, able to view the neighborhood west, north and east, one household is busy setting up the back deck for the summer. He is carrying out potted plants, two at a time, and she is arranging them here and there. Folding lounge chairs appear, soon to be opened, I hope, and lounged in.

One wonders, though. Many of us have a habit of creating  lovely spaces for rest and restoration, then choosing to pursue the next chore (of which there is an endless supply), instead of the just-as-important leisure.

The sun is shining, at long last. Another neighbor to the east is lounging. So inviting. This post may just get published without the usual editing, so that I too might be,

‘the idle singer of an empty day.’

(And to Mr. Morris, no apology required. Enjoy your empty day—-)

 

Supple

Can you coax your mind from its wandering

and keep to the original oneness?

Can you let your body become

supple as a newborn child’s?

Can you deal with the most vital matters

by letting events take their course?

Three questions found in Stephen Mitchell’s 1988 Tao Te Ching, which I tossed into the travel tote for a day trip to the hill. His translation notes included a quote from somatics educator, Emilie Conrad-Da’oud:

There is no self-consciousness in the newborn child. Later on, the mind wanders into self-images, starts to think Should I do this? Is this movement right? and loses the immediacy of the moment. As self-consciousness develops, the muscles become less supple, less like the world. But the young child is pure fluidity. Suppleness is really fluidity. It transcends strength and weakness. When your body is supple, it feels like there’s no barrier in you, you can flow in any direction, your movement is a complete expression of yourself.’

Limber, lithe, pliant, yielding. Wishing for all of us thoughtful questions to ask, with suppleness of mind and body to seek the answers. Be safe. Be well. Wear your masks—-

 

Dr. Seuss

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You have brains in your head,

You have feet in your shoes,

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.’

Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss, 1992.

Morehouse was crowded the day after Christmas. So many people living with cancer, which is who the ten floors of the facility are dedicated to serving. My name is called and I settle into the registration seat. The clerk has photos of her two young grandsons displayed on the cubicle wall, along with a scrap of paper containing the Dr. Seuss quote above. Unexpectedly, while just going through the motions of my annual thyroid cancer check-up, I am delighted to find, in Dr. Seuss lingo, a breezy summary of the Alexander Technique.

I’m considering adopting it as my response at the next dinner party when asked, ‘What is the Alexander Technique?’ As we begin 2020, I wish for you a year of living well with life’s many questions, and the happiness of occasionally discovering good answers—-

 

Kinesphere

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She has eyes in the back of her head.’

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

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Poise  (pwäz), n.   v., poised, poising.   —n 1. a state of balance or equilibrium, as from equality or equal distribution of weight; equipoise.   2. dignified, self-confident manner or bearing; composure; self-possession.

This one word delights, as it simultaneously addresses both body and mind. From The Use of the Self, Mr. Alexander writes:

‘I must admit that when I began my investigation, I, in common with most people, conceived of ‘body’ and ‘mind’ as separate parts of the same organism…My practical experiences, however, led me to abandon this point of view and readers of my books will be aware that the technique described in them is based on the opposite conception, namely, that it is impossible to separate ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ processes in any form of human activity.’

But how? How do we recover mind/body integration, lost by so many of us?

Observe. Inhibit. Direct. Repeat.

That’s Mr. Alexander’s ‘Technique,’ or, as Bruce Fertman writes in Teaching By Hand, Learning By Heart, ‘inquiry.’

‘The Alexander Technique is an inquiry into human integration, into what integration is, what restores it, and what disturbs it. It’s a foundational study. Integration underlies everything we do. The more integration we have, the easier it is to do what we’re doing.’

Here’s to recovering poise with body/mind integration—–

 

 

Inflection

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Recently subjected to the drone of a public speaker’s voice, I had the opportunity to make this observation: a monotone delivery is connected to limited vitality, reduced movement, and restricted awareness. Fluctuations in pitch, vocal resonance, variations of emphasis—all are directly tied to body use.

Which comes first? Monotone voice or constricted body? Giving our attention to ‘which one first’ takes us away from a happy remedy. We can respond to either limitation, in voice or in body, by addressing overall use with some Alexander Technique thinking.

Head leads, body follows.’ Expressiveness invariably increases when the speaker, dancer, actor, or musician tends to this basic AT tenet.  And one marker of improved use is a change in the voice. Eyes sparkle, too! See last week’s post….

Here’s to modulation and movement—-

 

 

Route 66

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This week’s post is a nod to the season’s fine American tradition—-The Summer Road Trip. Think hot macadam, windows down, music on the radio, pulling into a drive-in restaurant to order hamburgers, fries, and shakes, traveling a few more hours, selecting a motel where you can park right in front of your room, IF you don’t see this out front: NO VACANCY.

We long to see a VACANCY sign blazing after a day on the road. But in the motel that is our body, NO VACANCY is what we want. All rooms occupied, i.e.- embodied. That’s us at our best! We study and practice The Alexander Technique for this very reason—-to be fully in residence, present to ourselves and others.

A motel vacancy means empty rooms, unoccupied space. For a road traveler, that’s good news. For a resident of a body, not so much. When teacher-training, one of my Alexander Technique mentors would tease me about my ‘phantom limbs,’ referring to my legs from the knees down. They were there, but absent from my body awareness and only vaguely included in my body map.

A common territory unoccupied by many is the back, not only the back of our torso, but the entirety of our back self: back of legs, back of pelvis, backs of arms, back of neck, back of head. All that is ‘back’ is often disregarded, probably because sight is such a strong sense, and we don’t see our back selves when glancing in a mirror.

Include your back self in a scan of your body, and check to see that all rooms are occupied. NO VACANCY indeed—-

 

 

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!